A place to log ideas and thoughts

George Veletsianos, PhD

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Emerging COVID-19 scholarship related to teaching, learning, and technology

COVID-19 coverage in the education trade publications (e.g., Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, University Affairs) is a daily occurrence. We are now starting to see scholarly publications appearing, and I thought I’d try to capture some of them here.

35 papers from a special issue from JTATE on Preservice and Inservice Professional Development During the COVID-19 Pandemic: https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/j/JTATE/v/28/n/2/

Reich, J., Buttimer, C. J., Fang, A., Hillaire, G., Hirsch, K., Larke, L. R., … & Slama, R. (2020). Remote learning guidance from state education agencies during the covid-19 pandemic: A first look. Preprint https://edarxiv.org/437e2/

Johnson, N., Veletsianos, G., Seaman, J. (2020). U.S. Faculty and Administrators’ Experiences and Approaches in the Early Weeks of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Online Learning Journal, 24(2), 6-21. http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v24i2.2285

Holzweiss, P., Walker, D., Chisum, R., & Sosebee, T. (2020). Crisis Planning for Online Students: Lessons Learned from a Major Disruption. Online Learning, 24(2). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v24i2.2135

(a large collaboration covering 31 countries) Bozkurt, A., Jung, I., Xiao, J., Vladimirschi, V., Schuwer, R., Egorov, G., Lambert, S. R., Al-Freih, M., Pete, J., Olcott, Jr., D. Rodes, V., Aranciaga, I., Bali, M., Alvarez, Jr., A. V., Roberts, J., Pazurek, A., Raffaghelli, J. E., Panagiotou, N., de Coëtlogon, P., Shahadu, S., Brown, M., Asino, T. I. Tumwesige, J., Ramírez Reyes, T., Barrios Ipenza, E., Ossiannilsson, E., Bond, M., Belhamel, K., Irvine, V., Sharma, R. C., Adam, T., Janssen, B., Sklyarova, T., Olcott, N. Ambrosino, A., Lazou, C., Mocquet, B., Mano, M., & Paskevicius, M. (2020). A global outlook to the interruption of education due to COVID-19 pandemic: Navigating in a time of uncertainty and crisis. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 1-126. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3778083

(a massive ebook) Ferdig, R.E., Baumgartner, E., Hartshorne, R., Kaplan-Rakowski, R. & Mouza, C. (2020). Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved June 18, 2020 from https://www.learntechlib.org/p/216903/.

Numerous articles as part of this CFP at Post-digital science and education.

I expect that many more will be forthcoming. JRTE had a call for a special issue on “Engaging Learners in Emergency Transition to Online Learning during COVID-19” that closed on June 1. ETR&D also just closed a special issue on “Shifting to digital: Informing the rapid development, deployment, and future of teaching and learning.” Patrick Lowenthal has captured some recent (still open) calls for proposals for similar work here, here, and here. And finally, there’s this call by EMI on “education in times of crises” in the context of K-12.

What’s the future like? Speculative Methods in Networked Learning workshop

Jen Ross and I are leading a workshop on speculative methods as part of the 2020 Networked Learning (online) conference. It takes place on May 19 at 8am Pacific (4pm UK) and it’s free to attend. Our session will be held in this Adobe connect room: https://c.deic.dk/aristotle/

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, United States. Unsplash.

The workshop will last 55 minutes. Our schedule is as follows:

Workshop Description

The goal of this workshop is to introduce participants to speculative methods and explore their application to the field as a way of imagining potential futures and scenarios for learning, design, and technology. We define speculative methods as “research approaches that explore and create possible futures under conditions of complexity and uncertainty” (Ross, 2018). We aim to facilitate a broader conversation regarding the future of technology and networks in education through the exploration of the use of speculative methods as research methodologies.

Recent years have seen increased interest in and discussion of education futures. Some of the emergent discussions include conversations around how technologies manifest themselves in our daily lives and educational experiences (Aagaard, 2018), and what may be appropriate pedagogies to equip learners for the future economy (Facer & Sandford, 2010). As Ross (2017) argues, envisioning futures also “inform[s] us about what matters now in the field, what issues and problems we have inherited and what debates define what can or cannot be currently thought about or imagined” (p. 220).

Considering that the current state of education, at all levels, is situated within a context of ever-evolving social, cultural, political, and technological shifts, there is a need for networked learning scholars and practitioners to explore various ways that they can imagine and design future potentials and realities. The use of speculative methods enables researchers to ascertain and discern between probable, possible, and preferable trajectories (Bell, 2017) to offer evidence-based guidance when making current decisions related to networked learning, and to explore what may or may not be possible in their own contexts. They also give us tools for taking critical perspectives on the nature of the future itself, and how we think about and work towards particular education futures (Facer 2016). In prior iterations of this workshop (Veletsianos, Belikov, & Johnson, 2019), participants appreciated being able to think creatively about the future and identify micro, meso, and macro obstacles to reaching them.

Intended Audience

Individuals interested in critically exploring and designing education futures. These include students and academics (who may be interested in applying this method to their scholarship), and practitioners such as learning designers or administrators (who may be interested in using this method in institutional change-making efforts). This workshop is appropriate for anyone with an interest in designing and developing learning environments, creating new learning experiences, exploring the opportunities and challenges created by new or current technologies, leading conversations at their institutions around potential futures for their programs and departments, and exploring a variety of other potential futures for their work and scholarship.

What kinds of education models are available to Canadian Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)? 3/4

This is the third of four posts in a series that argues that the binary between in-person and online is problematic. See the first and second. In this post, I share some thoughts on some broader teaching and learning models that Canadian institutions (and others of course) are considering for Fall 2020.

In answering the question “what does teaching and learning look like in the Fall in the context of COVID-19?” I am interested in three models that exist between fully in-person and fully online. Though I’m focusing on Canadian institutions, some of this may apply to other contexts.

To make my assumptions explicit, I am assuming that some amount of physical distancing will be necessary in the Summer and Fall. I am also assuming that Canadian institutions will rely on guidance from Health experts, and as such will be guided by both federal and provincial recommendations. I’m also drawing from the findings of this paper, investigating the enrolment networks at Cornell, which suggest that eliminating large courses (or offering them online) may not be a viable long-term solution. Based on these assumptions, below are some options.

  • Offer all courses online, with the exception of “special circumstance” courses. These may be courses that involve student learning activities that require them to be on-campus (e.g., certain lab courses that cannot be replicated in online settings; certain courses that require in-person activities for professional reasons). The implication here is that there will be less students on campus and that campus will therefore be able to accommodate physical distancing guidelines.
  • Use a multi-access course design. A simple version of a multi-access course is one that allows students to participate in a course either in-person or online. For instance, a course may be taught and streamed live, and all participants may engage in both synchronous and asynchronous activities with each other. This design was originally created to enable students to have choice between in-person and online participation based on emerging needs or preferences over the duration of the semester. In today’s context, some students may not have the ability to choose between in-person and online (e.g., the physical classroom can only accommodate X students, but X+Y sign up for it; some students may face travel restrictions).
  • Use a blended cohort-residency model with X start dates. Let’s assume X=3. The first cohort (1/3 of the campus) travels to campus and begins their in-person courses. Four weeks later they leave campus and transition to online courses. The second cohort then travels to campus, and so on. This divides the student population in 3 and uses the in-person gathering to foster a sense of community among students. This is the model that most Royal Roads University programs have followed for many years.

There are challenges with these three models. All of them introduce organizational, technological, social, and pedagogical complications. The models are also silent about staff and faculty: when students are on-campus, they not only interact with peers in common courses, but they also interact with others in cafeterias, gyms, dorms, pubs, and participate in the community in the same ways that we all do. There’s also questions of equity, sustainability, and resilience here.

It is important to note that these options are not exclusionary. In other words, institutions could pursue more than one option. They do not necessarily need to adopt a single modality for the Fall – and importantly, they do not need to choose a singly modality ONLY for the Fall with the hope to return back to how things were. Returning to a question I asked in my first post: Is in-person education the best we can do for everyone? In other words, it is possible for an institution to offer its Fall (and its future) programming in a variety of ways, in the same way that many institutions offered some courses/programs in face-to-face ways and others in online formats.

In your opinion, are these three options more or less feasible in your context when compared to (well-designed) online learning? Why or Why not?

Face-to-face learning is inferior to online learning. Maybe. Sometimes. In some cases. If you ignore the nuance. 1/4

I am drawing inspiration from the tweet that follows to write a series of four blog posts. I love and appreciate Hannah’s question (and admire her broader work, which is an exemplar of digital public scholarship), so I’ll take some time to think through some of the issues raised in the question in this series of posts. This first post deals with the face-to-face vs online binary. The second will examine what we mean when we say that a learning experience is “good” or “better/less than.” The third will focus on exploring some broader teaching and learning models that institutions may consider for Fall 2020. The fourth will highlight some specific instances of digital pedagogy that I think are worthwhile to consider. [update: Apr 29: I switched the order of the third and fourth posts]. Now, on to the first post.

Could anybody point me towards articles that argue AGAINST the assumption that an online course is always inherently a degraded version of an in-person course? I’d particularly appreciate work that roots these arguments in specific examples of effective digital pedagogy.— Hannah McGregor (@hkpmcgregor) April 17, 2020

The question is spot on. The online vs. face-to-face debate is heating up. Again. And I suspect that you’ll hear it more and more in the coming weeks and months as higher education institutions try to figure out what to do about the summer and Fall semesters.

Here’s a challenge: Walk into a room (say of academics and administrators) and promptly announce to everyone that online education is inferior to face-to-face education. Most everyone won’t bat an eye.

Here’s a different challenge: Walk into the same room and announce to everyone that face-to-face education is inferior to online education. Not only will your peers bat both eyes, they’ll look at you as if you’re Cronus in the process of swallowing his children.

But, step back from these two arguments, and you’ll notice that both positions assume that modality is the main determinant of what works best. If you’ve ever stepped into a face-to-face classroom that left you yearning for something better – and I assume that most of us have – you should recognize that what makes or breaks learning goes beyond physical co-presence. More importantly, our tendency to view face-to-face and online education as a binary is distracting. It distracts us from improving education and the learning experiences that we are able to offer to students. Not because one modality is superior to the other, but because there is no single modality or learning model that will work for every higher education institution and for every course. Some models work in some contexts but not in others, and no model is best for all contexts.

The debate also ignores much of the nuance around how to best design a course and who the students are. Here’s a simple example to demonstrate how we can quickly get into the weeds. Assume we are designing an online course. Should the course be synchronous or asynchronous? Why? Should it include peer-to-peer interactions and group work or should it rely on independent student work? If it involves group work, what is the most optimal group structure and size? And should such group work rely on loose ideas around collaboration or should it be structured formally as suggested by cooperative learning and social interdependence theory? These kinds of questions – necessary as they are for designing good learning experiences – are absent when the arguments around models focus on binaries.

To return to the tweet: When people argue that face-to-face is better than online, they assume that all online experiences are the same (which isn’t true), that all face-to-face experiences are the same (again, not true), and that by-and-large, all online learning experiences are worse than in-person ones (follows from the prior two untrue statements).

Coming up in the next blog post: what do I mean by “good learning experiences” and what criteria do we use to determine whether one kind of learning experience is better than another?

A pan-Canadian effort in online education? PD not content.

Alex Usher writes that “the only way forward [i.e the Fall semester] for [Canadian] institutions is to do something which does not come naturally to them, and that is to create a national online curriculum collaboration.” I’d like to explore this a little bit here.

I agree with Alex on a number of areas: The likelihood of a “typical” face-to-face fall semester is slim; institutions need to improve their online learning offerings; and institutions don’t currently have as much instructional/learning design capacity as is likely needed to offer the kinds of online learning experiences that we know are exemplar and imaginative. To address these problems, he argues for collaboration. In my last blog post, I argued that in their longer-term efforts/strategies Canadian institutions (especially universities) need to collaborate more, use evidence-informed practices to guide online learning designs, and pay greater attention to pedagogy, OER, and equity. As Rick Schwier wrote a long while ago competition is corrosive – let’s collaborate more.

Alex’s proposed solution however is where him and I begin to veer atowards different paths. He argues for “creating, in common, a large basket of very good online resources which each institution could then incorporate into its own learning platforms.” He continues: “It would need to be done in concert with some first-class training for how to teach online.”

Content is not the problem in online teaching and learning. Content is abundant, and even when it is not, it is relatively easy to produce (caveat: institutions’ ideas about branding and what counts as “professional” content aside).

To design and develop good* online teaching and learning – the kind that many do, including us at Royal Roads University – institutions need to (1) to prepare faculty to teach online, and (2) offer excellent student support. In other words, institutions need to focus on the second part of Alex’s recommendation (first-class training on how to teach online) and expand the kinds of student supports they currently offer. I’ll focus on #1 here.

Preparing faculty to teach online is not something that we typically do at the pan-Canadian level. It should be no surprise to readers that most universities don’t even do that at the local level. And perhaps it’s time to think beyond our individual institutions. Here’s how we could potentially do a large-scale online teaching and learning professional development event in Canada in preparation for the Fall:

  1. Assemble a group of stakeholders that includes online learning experts, IDs, directors of centers of teaching and learning, and people from existing groups that are vested in educational technology collaboration (e.g., BCcampus, eCampusOntario, etc) to develop a teaching and learning online curriculum. Typical elements included here may be modules on interactions, assessment, student success, social presence, teacher presence, a/synchronous teaching and learning, facilitating discussions, etc. There’s no need to develop this from scratch either. There’s plenty of guidance online, including in Use Tony Bates’ Teaching in the Digital Age book.
  2. Using this curriculum, create a 4-week common online course. The course should be online not just because we’re in a pandemic. The course needs to be online so that participants (i.e. faculty) experience what good online teaching looks like first-hand.
  3. What should the design of course look like? The course should include some independent work (e.g., short lectures on basics) but also collaborative work with people at one’s institution, but also with people across institutions. Remember: an advsantage of online learning is its collapsing of classroom boundaries, and so faculty teaching Engineering 201 across Canada can meet up for a real-time chat to discuss whatever matters and worries them the most. While “online assessment” or “facilitating online learning” share commonalities, there are disciplinary differences that impact how both of these things are done online. Simply put: Assessment in Sociology 101 may look different than assessment in Calculus II and those may look different than assessment in Early Childhood Practicum… and so on.
  4. In other words, while there may be some centralization in the design of the course, this needs to encompasses smaller-scale work and collaboration. Faculty need to experience both what it may look like for students to work independently but also what opportunities/challenges exist for small-group collaboration.
  5. This is a good time to remind everyone: People need to be paid to take the course (or otherwise supported). Don’t mandate something like this, especially for sessional faculty without compensating them.
  6. One this is done, provide ID support to each individual faculty to create their own online course. Clint Lalonde puts it nicely when he argues for flattening the education curve. Yes, I know this is expensive and it’s not as easy as it sounds, but that’s a post for a different day.

I’ll end this with a bit of a warning because I am beginning to worry about something else entirely. You may hear similar-sounding arguments from MOOC providers and the like. They’ll say: Hey, we have this course, and you don’t need to pay us that much or waste so much time. Send your faculty to us and we’ll even give you a discount or offer it for free. That strategy – the capitalize-on-a-disaster strategy – is how these providers will seep into your institution, embed themselves in your practices for now and for good. In politely Canadian terms, I’d advice against it.

This isn’t a magic bullet. And it likely faces some challenges. But it’s now here, so if you like it and can improve it, by all means, please take it apart and let’s improve it together.

*I use the word “good” to refer to effective, engaging, and equitable online learning.

The resilience and ever-changing nature of Higher Education

An oft-repeated narrative that you have likely heard is that Higher Education institutions are dinosaurs that are resistant and slow to change. That’s not entirely untrue, but it’s not an accurate representation either.

“Education is broken” is one of the mantras reformists championing digital technology as a solution use, resting on the assumption that today’s classrooms were pretty much the same as classrooms from 100 years ago.

Yet. Higher education is not immune to innovations. On the contrary, it is often the source of them, and indeed, contemporary higher education is deeply intertwined with changes in society. As societies change over time time, so does Higher Education.

The resilience and changing nature of higher education is on full display at the moment due to COVID-19. Large in-person institutions moved anywhere between 6,000 to 9,000 courses in alternative remote teaching formats in a matter of weeks. Smaller institutions have done the same, at a scale aligned with their size. Anyone who abruptly switched to a new teaching format can tell you that there will be challenges there and pain points there. But everyone involved in this transition deserves major kudos. Regardless of institutional size, this feat is impressive. For those of us who teach in schools and colleges of education, for those of us who prepare educational technologists, instructional designers, digital learning leaders, and educational technology specialists, this is also a moment of pride for the work that our students and graduates do.

So, no, higher education is not broken. It is in a state of transition like it has always been, and like it will continue to be. While this transition, at this very moment, focuses on modality (i.e. the transition from in-person to online/remote), the longer-term transition will focus on other aspects of teaching and learning as well, including ways of assessment, program offerings, and so on. Four hope that I have for Canadian Higher Education (and there may be lessons here for other countries) are the following:

  • We collaborate more, rather than compete more
  • We use what we know from research on online learning, learning design, and flexible learning to guide us.
  • We pay greater attention to pedagogy, open educational resources/practices, and student equity
  • We pay greater attention to the learner experience, guided by a sense of compassion and care

Sending my warm wishes and love to all of you.


Hiring for 3 positions: learning and information design to address COVID-19 misinformation

Last month my colleagues and I were successful in our application for rapid funding from the Government of Canada to address COVID-19. Our project aims to study misinformation flows pertaining to COVID-19 and design educational interventions to address misinformation. We are now hiring for three remote positions for Canadian citizens or permanent residents to work with us at Royal Roads University (2 MA/PhD, and 1 postdoc).

[Update for clarification: Students do not need to be enrolled at Royal Roads University. As long as they are enrolled as students at a University/College they are eligible to apply for the RA positions and will be given full consideration.]

Below are the postings. Please feel free to disseminate these to your networks

Postdoc: https://royalroads.mua.hrdepartment.com/hr/ats/Posting/view/705

RA 2 (Master’s or Doctorate student): https://royalroads.mua.hrdepartment.com/hr/ats/Posting/view/706

RA 2 (Master’s or Doctorate student): https://royalroads.mua.hrdepartment.com/hr/ats/Posting/view/707

Tiny Tips #3: COVID-19 and Online Learning

This post isn’t about tensions, working long hours to serve our students and our communities, or how-tos. Rather, it’s about how one of the things that COVID-19 reveals is how collaboration and goodwill may help Higher Education respond and react.

A common element in both yesterday’s post and in today’s article that Shandell Houlden and I published with The Conversation, is the simple fact that coming together, helping each other, and collaborating is tremendously beneficial. Addressing COVID-19 and its impacts requires us – universities, individuals, systems – to work together. And we’d be better for it. In this post, I wanted to share some large-scale collaborative efforts that have popped up in the last week or so in Higher Education.

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