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Canadian faculty experiences during COVID-19: Never-ending repetitiveness, sadness, loss, and “juggling with a blindfold on

Many surveys examined faculty member experiences during the pandemic, highlighting the challenges and affordances of a mass transition to remote forms of teaching and learning, but also its unequal and disproportional impacts. In a new study, we wanted to develop a much more detailed and visceral description of what some faculty have been experiencing during the pandemic, informed by our specific interests in online learning and teaching with technology. This study is part of a broader SSHRC grant which funded the postdoc and research assistants who wrote this with me (thank you!). The abstract and citation is below:

VanLeeuwen, C.A., Veletsianos, G., Belikov, O. Johnson, N. (in press).  Never-ending repetitiveness, sadness, loss, and “juggling with a blindfold on:” Lived experiences of Canadian college and university faculty members during the COVID-19 pandemic. British Journal of Educational Technology. or author’s pre-print copy.

We report on the lived experiences of faculty members during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, exploring the broader experiences of faculty members as individuals living multi-faceted lives whose homes became their offices, their students scattered geographically, and their home lives upended. Using a phenomenological approach for data collection and analysis, we conducted twenty in-depth interviews with faculty holding varied academic appointments at universities across Canada. Experiences during the early months of the pandemic were described as being overwhelming and exhausting, and participants described as being stuck in a cycle of never-ending repetitiveness, sadness and loss, of managing life, teaching, and other professional responsibilities with little sense of direction. In keeping with phenomenological methods, this research paints a visceral picture of faculty experiences, seeking to contextualize teaching and learning during this time. Its unique contribution lies in portraying emergency remote teaching as an overlapping and tumultuous world of personal, professional, and day-to-day responsibilities.


Faculty social media use in 2021

Much of the research on faculty use of social media relies on Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane (2011), Moran & Tinti-Kane (2013), and Bowman (2015) to demonstrate the degree to which faculty social media use is prevalent. These surveys show that (a) increasing adoption of social media tools for professional purposes over the years, (b) greater use of social media for personal rather than professional purposes, (c) around half of faculty members using social media for professional purposes, and (d) variation in the adoption rates and ways that different social media are used.

In a new study, we provide an updated picture of the prevalence of faculty social media use in 2021.

Significant findings include the following:

  • Faculty are most likely to have social media accounts on Facebook (75%) and LinkedIn (65%).
  • Faculty use social media professionally and personally; however, such use varies by platform (e.g., LinkedIn is used mainly for professional purposes, whereas Facebook is primarily used for personal purposes).
  • The frequency of social media use varies by platform (e.g., Facebook is used daily or every few days by 74% of faculty, whereas LinkedIn is used every few weeks, monthly, or rarely by 71% of faculty).
  • Faculty social media use is mostly passive. On all platforms, the majority of faculty reported posting content seldomly or never.
  • Around 25% of faculty have a personal website, such as a blog or portfolio site, which is a concerning statistic given calls for controlling one’s digital presence.
    • This faculty sub-group has several unique characteristics related to how they use social media, including an increased likelihood of Twitter use and being more likely to use Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter for a mix of professional and personal uses.
  • Faculty have mixed feelings about social media, holding both positive and negative opinions about both tools and their impacts across personal and professional dimensions.
  • Compared to earlier studies, there has been very little change concerning faculty use of social media to communicate with students.

The report is CC-BY licensed and can be downloaded from here. Recommended citation: Johnson, N. & Veletsianos, G. (2021). Digital Faculty: Faculty social media use and communications. Bay View Analytics.

How many colleges and universities use proctoring software?

Understanding how many colleges and universities in North America use remote proctoring technologies matters to students, faculty, staff, and administrators, and it is important for practical, scholarly, and ethical reasons. Beyond rough estimates and statements on proctoring software sites, there’s little data on the prevalent of proctoring software. Royce Kimmons and I tried to estimate proctoring software penetration by programmatically searching 2,155 college and university websites in the U.S. (n = 1,923) and Canada (n = 232) to determine how widely these tools and services were being used. We found that nearly 63% of colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada use proctoring software, with U.S. institutions being much more likely to use them than Canadian institutions. We report our detailed results in EDUCAUSE review.

Coursera’s IPO

Coursera has filed for an IPO, and here’s the S-1 form. The form is worth a read, if nothing else to get a sense of how the company sees itself. A few quick thoughts:

  • Coursera had 3 revenue streams in 2020:
    • consumer revenues ($192.9 million) – these are revenues directly from individuals (think a learner who bus a subscription)
    • enterprise revenues ($70.8 million) – these are from organisations (e.g., government) using coursera courses for training or universities using coursera courses for their students
    • degree revenues ($29.8 million) – these is the online program management (OPM) part of the company.
  • What does 2020 signify for Coursera? Is it the peak, as the world turned to online/remote learning? Or is it the year where the enterprise and degree offerings became regular parts of other organizations’ offerings? S-1 is transparent on this: “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted, and may continue to impact, our business, key metrics, and results of operations in volatile and unpredictable ways.”
  • (Unsurprising to anyone, but worth mentioning that) Coursera is also a data company: “We leverage our large partner and customer base, our engaged learner community, and our focus on user-driven innovation to aggregate feedback on features and functionality and consistently improve our offerings and platform.”
  • The ongoing partnership with Google is interesting from a job-search/matching perspective, though the S-1 doesn’t include explicit mention the new offerings launched on March 11, 2021.
  • About half of Coursera’s revenue comes from the US, even though over 80% of learners come from outside the US.

Disclosure and disclaimer: I hold no stake or investments in education or educational technology companies/startups. The above is not financial advice, and if you’re considering investing in this space you should talk to a financial advisor.

New paper: Flexible learning, completion, time, and gender

Online learning is often framed in terms of flexibility, notably flexibility to participate in education from “anyplace” at “anytime.” Flexible designs are powerful – they allow enable access and enhance participation. But, such flexibility may not be afforded to everyone equally. Put differently, flexibility as a design feature or value may make courses more flexible, may accommodate schedules, but not everyone is able to equally take advantage of such flexibility. In other words: Some people are able to exercise more flexibility in their life than others, for a variety of factors, such as financial means, family support, etc etc. We have questioned the degree to which flexibility is equitable here and here, where we have argued that we need to stop assuming that flexible learning benefits everyone equally.

In a new paper, we provide some empirical support for these arguments. Here’s the abstract:

Flexible learning removes barriers relating to time, place, and pace. While time management skills have been identified as necessary for learners to take advantage of flexible learning, relatively little is known about the temporal dimensions of flexible learning and how gender might relate to temporal flexibility and its perceived benefits. To address this gap, we analyzed data from 380,000 students participating in two massive open online courses to create a model that predicts course completion likelihood from learner time management behaviors and gender. Results supported most a priori assumptions. Successful course completers logged in frequently, devoted longer amounts of time to each session, moved quickly through course materials, and completed coursework early. However, consistent study was associated with lower course completion likelihood, and women benefited more from reduced consistency. These findings suggest that temporal flexibility may especially benefit women.

Veletsianos, G., Kimmons, R. Larsen, R., & Rogers, J. (in press). Flexibility, Time, Gender, and Online Learning Completion. Distance Education. or author’s copy.

One year on; Homegrown expertise, expectations, and inequities

In March 2020, just a few days before higher education institutions and k-12 in North America shuttered down, my colleagues Shandell Houlden and I published a short op-ed. There’s one point in that op-ed continues to continues require our attention. There’s a second point that did not make it into the published version for a number of reasons, but also requires our attention. March 2020 would have been a great time to address these two issues. February 2021 is still a good time, so I am posting them here


The need for skill and preparedness should serve as a reminder that institutions need to cultivate their in-house pedagogical and online learning expertise. The process of unbundling and outsourcing that many institutions have engaged in with respect to online learning in recent years–while enabling them to benefit from the expertise of others–leaves institutions vulnerable to third parties. When Phipps writes that a vendor “offered their platform for free to students in China for three weeks” we should heed Ayebi-Arthur’s recommendation, who in writing about educational technology responses to the 2011 earthquake in New Zealand, notes that such free gifts “set in motion long-term expectations that need to be managed.”

[Main points: Cultivate online learning expertise; short-term responses vs. long-term efforts/expectations/processes; be suspicious of “free” offers, as edtech has a history of bait-and-switch offers]

Notably, these lessons will apply beyond higher education. Many K-12 schools faced closures in 2009 in response to the H1N1pandemic, and this is newly becoming a possibility outside of China. The challenges faced here will also be somewhat different, as caregivers negotiate work and children, a struggle which many people are ill-prepared for.

[Main points: Inequities; some people have the resources, knowledge, skills, social-economic-cultural capital, and power to cope and manage and thrive while some do not; e.g., new NBER research [pdf] showing how women academics, especially mothers of young children have been disproportionately impacted] 


We ended with this: “In this increasingly unstable world, crises potentially impact our education systems as much as anything else in their way. This will be true whether the crisis is caused by the circulation of a new pathogen, or something else entirely: war, flooding, or wildfire, as are more common due to climate change. What we have before us is a stark reminder that we should approach the promises of technological solutionism with caution. Flexible and resilient educational systems require more than tools. They demand collaboration, preparation, expertise, resources, and use of lessons learned in the past.”

New paper: The nature and effects of the harassment that scholars receive

My colleagues and I have a new paper available that examines various issues around scholars’ harassment. This one is led by soon-to-be-Dr. Chandell Gosse, and it is the third in a series of papers examining the topic. The first two are here. This work is based on a SSHRC Insight Development grant examining the harassment that faculty receive, which led to a current SSHRC Insight grant that my co-PI (Dr. Jaigris Hodson) and I are using to expanding our harassment-related research.

You can access the paper from the link below. If you don’t have library access, here is the author’s copy of the submitted paper.

Gosse, C., Veletsianos, G., Hodson, J., Houlden, S., Dousay, T., Lowenthal, P., Hall, N.C. (in press). The Hidden Costs of Connectivity: Nature and Effects of Scholars’ Online Harassment. Learning, Media, & Technology, xx-xx.


A growing body of research reveals that some scholars face online harassment and that such harassment leads to a wide variety of adverse impacts. Drawing on data collected from an online survey of 182 scholars, we report on the factors and triggers involved in scholars’ experiences of online harassment; the environments where said experiences take place, and; the consequences it has for personal and professional relationships. We find that online harassment is heavily entwined with the work, identity, and in some cases, the requirements of being a scholar. The online harassment scholars experience is often compounded by other factors, such as gender and physical appearance. We build on prior research in this area to further argue that universities ought to widen their scope of what constitutes workplace harassment and workplace safety to include online spaces.


There’s much in this paper that we think is valuable, but I thought the chart below is worthwhile to share. The figure shows a list of triggers that respondents said contributed to them receiving online harassment. Some of the conversation around the use of social media in education and social media for scholarship centers around the idea that being on social media may invite harassment. Such victim-blaming is not only unhelpful and demeaning, but it also misses the point that. Teaching activities can prompt harassment (e.g., via the sharing of recorded lectures in unfriendly groups), a paper that one writes, or a media appearance. 





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