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5 questions with Dr. George Veletsianos on open scholarship and the role of emerging technologies

Dr. George Veletsianos is Canada Research Chair of Innovative Learning and Technology and Professor at Royal Roads University’s School of Education and Technology. Dr. Veletsianos is a past Fulbright scholar and was recently awarded one of seven early-career fellowships by the Network of Excellence in Technology Enhanced Learning, a European Union Initiative.

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1. Tell us a bit more about your role as the Canada Research Chair of Innovative Learning and Technology?

The Canada Research Chairs program is intended to “improve our depth of knowledge and quality of life, strengthen Canada’s international competitiveness, and help train the next generation of highly skilled people through student supervision, teaching, and the coordination of other researchers’ work.

I study emerging technologies and pedagogies, and explore topics related to learning experiences and open scholarship. My overarching research objective is to make sense of learners’ and scholars’ experiences and practices with social technologies in higher education settings through in-depth and interpretive/qualitative analyses of people’s practices and experiences.

A big part includes understanding why learners/scholars use social technologies in the ways that they do. I basically engage in research to improve our understanding of teaching and learning and how that research can assist us all to design better technologies and approaches for teaching/learning.

2. What can you tell us about the RRU School of Education and Technology? 

The School of Education and Technology at Royal Roads offers graduate degrees, diplomas, and certificates for educational technology, learning technologies, educational leadership, and educational management. Two examples are the MA in Learning and Technology and the MA in Educational Leadership and Management. We want our students to have exceptional and powerful learning experiences and we design for those outcomes.

Our programs place strong emphasis on both academic excellence and practice, and our work is guided by a strong social learning ethos, that centres on the Royal Roads Learning and Teaching Model.

The School of Education and Technology has a close working relationship with the Center for Teaching and Educational Technologies, which allows us to expose our students to emerging technologies and exciting pedagogies.

The graduate degrees offered through the School of Education and Technology are two-year, cohort-based programs. Royal Roads is known for offering degrees that combine short summer residencies with the rest of the degree delivered online, but students in the MA in Learning and Technology now have the option to complete their degree fully online if they choose to do so.

Finally, a number of our faculty members are active in research. Their topics of interest are diverse and include:

  • open education, open learning, and open research,
  • learning technologies, including social media,
  • learning community development,
  • learner experiences,
  • educational reform in international contexts,
  • and, informal learning.

3. Your book, Emerging Technologies in Distance Education, is available for free via creative commons. And, your most recent study with Royce Kimmons, The Fragmented Educator, is also available online. Why is it important to distribute your work for free?

Removing barriers to knowledge sharing and dissemination will improve research, teaching, and learning. Too much of the knowledge that researchers have generated is hidden behind password-protected sites, and it’s unfortunate that individuals who might benefit from that knowledge are prevented from being able to do so.

The decision of where to publish a particular piece of writing however is guided by numerous factors, including journal readership, journal focus, and so on. So in some cases, the best publishing outlet for a particular paper might not be a journal with an open access policy. In those cases I self-archive copies of my papers.

I am posting my work online because it helps practitioners and scholars in finding, using, and engaging with it. By posting my work online, I have gained a better understanding of who interacts with my work. I have benefited greatly from interactions I have had with colleagues and students who read my work.

By writing about my work on my blog, by sharing my perspective, by discussing my ideas with colleagues, I am learning from and with colleagues. For example, there may be 3 or 4 other colleagues at most, which share similar research interests at my institution. Social technologies have allowed me to connect with researchers and practitioners worldwide who share my interests, and have allowed us learn from one another.

4. Are you aware of the BCcampus Open Textbook project?

The Open Textbook project at BCcampus is a marvelous example of the potential impact of openness. Reducing the cost of higher education, including textbook costs, is important and something that we should all be striving toward. Beyond that, the project has encouraged conversations around affordability, textbook quality, and collaboration between higher education institutions.

Open textbooks are part of a larger movement in education around openness and what that means for learners, instructors, and educational institutions. I am greatly interested in the innovations happening at BCcampus, especially as these innovations are paving the way for many both in B.C. and beyond the province.

5. Your latest research finds you studying learners’ experiences in MOOCs.  What impact do you see MOOCS have on online learning? 

My relationship with MOOCs is ambivalent, as I recently wrote in my blog. While I appreciate the learning opportunities that freely available courses provide, I often worry that the design of such courses privileges certain individuals. And, I wonder whether such courses are actually reaching the people who are most in need.

The research on MOOCs is still nascent. It’s too early to understand the impact of this phenomenon, though online learning has existed much longer than MOOCs, and it will exist after MOOCs.

MOOCs however, have allowed the higher education community to have numerous conversations around innovation, educational technology, and teaching and learning. These conversations are significant.

The more we discuss the challenges that higher education is facing, the more we struggle with solutions to those problems, and the more we design and develop approaches and technologies to improve education, the better off we will be.

I recently wrote that “the reality of open online learning is that learners’ experiences are neither as overwhelmingly positive as optimists make them out to be, nor as poor as critics suggest they are.”

There’s a lesson for all of us here.

Notable Quotes:

Removing barriers to knowledge sharing and dissemination will improve teaching and learning.

We are finding ourselves at a time when technology enthusiasts hope to personalize learning experiences and make them more engaging, but we have little evidence of what actually happens on networked, open, and large-scale learning environments.

My early research sought to understand the appropriation and repurposing of emerging technologies to fit scholarly objectives (e.g., Facebook used as a teaching tool, Twitter used as a networking tool).

Online participation is frequently characterized by tension. For example, even though we often hear that “faculty members should be a bit more paranoid about social media” my research also shows that the community of open scholars appears to encourage and celebrate “engagement with and sharing about [personal] issues unrelated to the profession.”

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