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Rejected: On being disappointed, sorta

I’ve never really actively “looked for work”. In my late teens, my brother and I started a series of restaurants (we owned and operated seven in total). The hospitality field is very hard, however, on families and relationships as it consumes an enormous amount of time. Eventually, for a variety of reasons, I left the industry and started working in training and development and returned to University of Manitoba as a student.

A few years later, a colleague that I had worked with in the past informed me of an opportunity at Red River College. Somehow, I transitioned to this opportunity at the right time – the department I taught in at RRC was the first in Canada to go exclusively laptop (at least, that’s what I heard. I have never really bothered to validate that claim). Coming into this technical learning environment was a great experience. This was before the days of WebCT and broader use of learning management systems. I experimented with various blended and online courses (I remember, in early 2000, running a course in Groove – a P2P system since purchased by Microsoft – because I didn’t like the limited functionality of the web-based instructional systems we had access to at that time) and different types of media, video, and simulations.

In early 2000, I also started blogging and eventually set up this site. I also continued my education during this stage, wrapping up my masters, a certificate in adult education, and a series of distance education courses through different colleagues on database management, ancient Greek, facilitating online, and such.

I then made the jump to University of Manitoba, started my phd (now finished), and continued developing courses and programs, including the certificate in emerging technologies for learning.

By mid-2007, I was quite active in conference keynoting and significantly increased my international travel. In each of the last five years, I’ve traveled at least 100,000 miles (160k last year – never again) and have been very blessed to form a global network of contacts – former students, colleagues, and policy/gov’t folks.

It has been outstanding. The learning has been wonderful.

What I haven’t done as much of, however, is publish in traditional journals and texts. I haven’t really seen the need, to be honest. I still don’t.

In October 2011, a colleague sent me a link to this Canada Research Chair position at Royal Roads University. As with other opportunities, this wasn’t something I was actively looking for or soliciting. However, the focus of this research chair on learning innovation and analytics captured my interest and I decided to apply (obviously informing my colleagues at Athabasca University of my intent. I love my role at Athabasca U, but indications of provincial education funding challenges create some unpleasant uncertainty. My current role is slated to expire in 2013).

Over the last few months I engaged in various Skype interviews with HR and was finally short-listed as one of 3 visitors to Royal Roads for an on-campus presentation, meeting with faculty, and such. That meeting happened last week.

I just received a call that the position had been offered to another candidate. Congrats to that individual…given how small this field is, I likely know (or at least know of) her or him.

I’m not entirely disappointed. But, in another way I am. Let’s face it, the feeling of rejection is unpleasant. (I wish emotions would be more binary!)

I’m disappointed because my particular matrix of experiences and expertise did not mesh well with the criteria of a research chair in innovative learning. I was, in the language of an interviewing panel (who were excellent hosts and extremely courteous) not “SSHRC-able” because my profile doesn’t include sufficient traditional peer-review journal publications. I have over the years resisted and largely ignored recommendations and pleas from colleagues to increase my publication activity. I find conference presentations, blogging, open courses, and interactions online much more satisfying.

Sadly, being slow of learning, I don’t think I’ll change based on this experience :) .

As with any life marker, this is an opportunity to pause, reflect, and consider next steps. I have over the past few years been increasingly drawn to returning to the entrepreneurial vein. I enjoy being able to influence things and to work around structures that I see as impediments. I’m less capable at colouring within the lines. I enjoy being able to turn the page when needed and influence the rules and conditions that I function within.

The desire to play in the startup space is strong. Of course that is not at odds with higher education – I know of many colleagues who navigate both spaces. But, that’s just me thinking out loud.

I have appended a slightly revised research proposal below (I made a few changes where anonymity might be warranted). In a final interview with the selection committee, I stated that this is an area of research and exploration that I will pursue regardless of whether it is officially sanctioned by a research chair position. Whether as a startup, in my current role, or something else entirely, the intersection of social media, analytics, new pedagogical models, and networked learning are a lucrative and provocative area of exploration.

My Royal Roads Proposal:
Integrating social and technical systems for learning and knowledge innovation
Research Plan

Knowledge institutions have traditionally mirrored the structure and characteristics of information in a particular era (McNeely & Wolverton, 2008). In order to understand the evolution of universities, and specifically, learning, what is being done with information must first be explored. The influence of the internet has been dramatic in shaping many sectors of society.

Early generations of innovative online learning consisted of learning management systems such as Moodle and Blackboard. Several prominent researchers and organizations are now exploring next-generation online and hybrid learning models based social networked technologies: Goodyear (2011); SocialLearn (The Open University) 2011; and OpenClass (Pearson, n.d.). MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative in 2002 increased attention to open and free sharing of educational course materials (see MIT, 2011). During a similar time frame, rapid development of mobile technologies (Murphy & Meeker, 2011), the semantic web (Berners-Lee, Hendler, & Lassila, 2001), and new tools for data collection and analysis due to information abundance (Mayer, 2009) have increased the presence of digital technologies in classrooms and online learning. Additionally, the proliferation of data in higher education (i.e., data trails of learner activity as well as the development of personalized and adaptive learning models) has resulted in increased emphasis on data use in the learning process . Taken together, these trends provide a new reality for educators.

This new reality presents challenges for the existing higher education system (Altbach, Reisberg, & Rumbley, 2009). In particular, how do people learn and solve complex problems in social, global networks in climates of information abundance? What role does the university play in preparing learners to participate in global information economies? These challenges present an opportunity for researchers and educational institutions to experiment with innovative learning models aligned with the information and interaction infrastructure of today’s learners and working professionals.

Research Areas and Questions

Specific research questions to be addressed by the proposed Innovation in Learning and Technology CRC include:

1. What impact do emerging technologies, such as mobile learning and social networks, have on the existing course model in higher education?
2. How do learners self-organize, through social and technological means, in complex and information abundant environments?
3. Which learning analytics and data mining models and algorithms assist learners in building self-awareness in ensuring learner success?
4. How can semantic technologies be utilized to create “intelligent curriculum” and provide personal and adaptive learning experiences?
5. How can social technologies bridge barriers between face-to-face and online learning and formal and informal learning?

These emerging trends require a research program in determining the impact on teaching, learning, and education. Such a research program should recognize the importance of both the technical and the social aspects of learning. On the one hand, data and analytics promise a “4th paradigm” of scientific discovery and research driven by data and analytics (Hey, Tansley, & Tolle, 2009). On the other hand, learning sciences (Sawyer, 2005) ensure that learning related innovations are grounded in research on the actual learning experiences of individuals. Learning analytics and learning sciences can be combined to provide educators and researchers with insight into the impact of learning innovations.

Research into complex subject areas, such as learning sciences and analytics, requires a different approach to research from what has been required in the past. Instead of a lone researcher running a lab, researchers today have the opportunity to connect with global research networks and to plan for in-context research in corporate learning settings.

The research proposed will have a direct impact on teaching an learning at Royal Roads University as well as through consultations and research partnerships with corporations.

Research Proposal

  1. Establish an Institute for Innovation in Learning, Analytics, and Technology (ILAT), consisting of global advisory board and research partners. The research institute will bring together researchers within Royal Roads University and provide opportunities for graduate student research as well as visiting research fellowships.
  2. Develop a platform for innovative teaching and learning through social networked technologies. This platform will then become the primary innovation environment for experimenting with and evaluating new models of teaching, learning, and content delivery. The platform will be based on the open source ELGG tool and will include customization to reflect personalized learning content as well as advanced analytics on learner behaviour.
  3. Develop an analytics platform to evaluate and optimize learner experience with course content and resources at Royal Roads University. Analytics, based on successful results from business intelligence tools and techniques, have gained attention in higher education over the past several years. In response, a systems view of analytics, based on open platform with defined APIs for extension and use by researchers, is required.

Partnership and Collaboration

Multiple research partners are available for collaboration opportunities. Over the past decade, I have developed a global network of research and research institute connections. The research institute, as presented above, would target collaboration opportunities with other researchers and research institutes in Europe, UK, USA, Australia, Africa, and China. A global, digital, research institute can help to promote the work of RRU and increase opportunities for scholar exchange and for attracting new students.

Funding Sources

Developing the research funding is anticipated from three sources:

1. Start-up infrastructure funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation
2. Provincial and national granting (SSHRC) agencies
3. Corporate partnerships with organizations involved in learning analytics
4. Foundation funding

Cited Sources

Altbach, P., Reisberg, L., & Rumbley, L. (2009). Trends in global higher education: Tracking an academic revolution. A report prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education. Retrieved from here

Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J., & Lassila, O. (2001, May 17). The semantic web [Preview]. Retrieved from

Goodyear, P. (2010). Learning, technology and design: Architectures for productive networked learning. Retrieved from

Hey, T., Tansley, S., & Tolle, K. (2009). The fourth paradigm: Data-intensive scientific discovery. Available from

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2011). Open CourseWare. Available from

Mayer, M. (2009, November 25). Innovation at Google: The physics of data [PARC forum] (3:59 mark). Retrieved from

McNeely, I. F., & Wolverton, L. (2008). Reinventing knowledge: From Alexandria to the internet. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co

Murphy, M., & Meeker, M. (2011, February). Top mobile internet trends. Retrieved from

Pearson. (n.d.). OpenClass. Retrieved from

Sawyer, R. K. (Ed.). (2005). Cambridge handbook of learning sciences. Available from

The Open University. (2011). SocialLearn. Retrieved from


  1. Greg Wilson wrote:

    Kudos for sharing both the story and the proposal so that others can learn from them — thanks.

    Friday, February 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  2. I’m sympathetic.

    What’s most worthy of note is that both you and I managed to get a break here and there to get some good positions. I think a lot of people who are equally good don’t get the chance.

    Friday, February 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  3. As per Stephen comments, I’m sympathetic on your situation.
    Research grounded on traditional publishing is still the norm, and so I reckon that’s what most universities are looking for. I have been deeply impressed with your passion towards research & teaching. I reckon there are wide open doors in many other places, as you mentioned, despite this door being closed (temporary). Just a matter of time and opportunity, perhaps. All the best.

    Friday, February 17, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink
  4. Greg Russell wrote:

    As a budding learning technologies researcher, I feel much the same about you re:publication process, and I’m glad to hear that you are willing to stick to your beliefs. The work matters, the position…less so?

    On another note, I just received my first rejection from the William T. Grant foundation, so it was comforting to see you (an educator who’s work I respect) write about rejection instead of hiding it.


    Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  5. Howard Rheingold wrote:

    Good luck on this George. You are definitely one of the real pioneers. I hope you find sponsors for this research — you are the one to do it. Perseverance furthers — I hope.

    Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  6. Jim Lerman wrote:

    George, though we haven’t met, I’ve followed your work closely for several years and find your openness, insight, vision, and principled stance a source of stimulation and motivation.
    Being no stranger to rejection, as I tell my colleagues and students, if you are called for the interview, it means you are qualified for the job. All the rest is politics and interpersonal chemistry (things over which most of us have little or no control).
    The university is a medieval institution struggling to maintain its place in a world changing far too rapidly and fundamentally for any but the most financially secure and politically nimble to flourish for long. Some of us are fortunate to establish a foothold in the academy, yet entrepreneurial pursuits beckon brightly.
    Thank you for publishing the research proposal. As always, you point the way to an intelligent future. I agree with Howard. You are the one to do this work and if it’s worth doing (which it is) perseverance matters greatly.

    Sunday, February 19, 2012 at 12:40 am | Permalink
  7. Unfortunate for sure, but does it not smack a bit of the issues around the ‘system’ of higher education?

    Is it really about the number of peer-reviewed journals that have been published in academic journals and the like?

    Or, is it above the holistic talent and skill an individual brings to the table.

    I choose the latter.

    As you know, I’d be eager and interested to discuss start-up opportunities. They (start-ups) aren’t interested in the quantity of published journals. (something I know I’ll never be able to address either)

    Monday, February 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  8. John Egan wrote:

    Disappointment isn’t every fun. It rains quite a bit out here and is very dark in the winter. :D

    I do understand your perspective on peer-reviewed publications. But I’d like to offer an argument why folks like you should consider doing it more often.

    Everything in higher education eventually reduces to the strength of claims and the evidence produced to justify them. Which means scholarly literature. In the era of the read/write web, there’s no shortage of persons holding forth on their very nicely designed website–spouting absolute crap.

    If you want to change higher education, publishing in university presses and peer-reviewed journals is the most effective way to earn credibility.

    You’d also be supporting your colleagues who are positioned with few resources: for them being able to point to scholarly publications allows them to leverage things.

    I don’t think there’s a need to choose either/or: both is my tack.

    Monday, February 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  9. Hello George -
    Thanks for your posting here. I could take my comments in multiple directions, but I decided to focus on academic journals here. IMHO, academic journals do not serve society very well. In my Masters program for Instructional Design, all of the journals I read were essentially useless to me. The authors rehashed the existing (and often outdated) literature but then they didn’t take any solid stands or make any really helpful recommendations. They usually stated the need for further research in this or that area. The journals often cost too much and are only meant to be read by other experts in the field. They are not meant to be read by the average “Joe” out there. Too bad…as they might write more usefu/practical items if they conversed with others outside of academia.

    Personally, I think it would be great if you would help society by using your gifts and your interests (with educational technologies, pedagogy and learning theories, online-based learning, social learning, analytics and more) to help folks ride a quickly-approaching wave in higher education that I call “learning from the living room”.

    The convergence of the TV, computer, and telephone continues — and with the cost of higher ed going through the roof, people will find alternative ways around the current system. A system, I believe, that’s about to get majorly disrupted — as other industries have been by the Internet. Learning from the living room may be one of the ways that people use multiple devices to “watch” one monitor yet use another device to comment and interact with the material on that monitor with others. Highly personalized, customized education — via dashboards enabled by analytics — could be very helpful. Much more helpful than the journals I read through. :)


    Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  10. serena turri wrote:

    I’d like to express my sympathy with you for what has happened. In my opinion, this episode perfectly reflects the anachronism and blindness of some rules and of those who apply them slavishly.


    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 1:27 am | Permalink
  11. Alex H. wrote:

    As an aside, as an occasional SSHRC reviewer, I don’t know that I could identify someone as SSHRC-able or not. But I get the drift.

    I actually have published a bit, but have never been as active on that side as most of my colleagues. The real key here is that institutions (schools as much as universities) need an easily grasped metric, and peer-reviewed publications are one of the rare widely-accepted ways of external validation and assessment of the quality of work.

    Unfortunately, their ability to adequately do this is in serious question. And the ultimate *reason* for publication–to communicate good ideas–gets a bit lost in the process. What is needed in the academy are metrics that communicate excellence beyond traditional publishing…

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  12. Tony Reeves wrote:

    Whether “SSHRC-able” or not, George, you are unquestionably a leader in the areas of networked learning and analytics. From the perspective of someone who is about to embark on a PhD, your research proposal provides a valuable summary of the challenges and opportunities in the field and the issues around online learning in universities that warrant serious consideration.

    If I was in a position to offer collaboration opportunities I would jump at the chance!

    Friday, February 24, 2012 at 5:13 am | Permalink
  13. Leah Good wrote:

    I am sending you my curriculum vitae right now so you can hire me when you’ve got your business plan together. Who says that start-ups can’t happen in the “academic” space?

    And by the way, publishing in peer-reviewed journals does not guarantee anything. Several publications as a graduate student didn’t get me a full-time teaching job anywhere….

    Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  14. gsiemens wrote:

    @gregW – thanks for the comment!

    @Stephen – I couldn’t agree more – I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunities that I’ve experienced in my life. Nothing by gratitude and humility there!

    @SUI FAI JOHN MAK – thanks! I’m sure other doors will be opened (and still others will be closed!!)

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  15. gsiemens wrote:

    @GregR – good point about work being what matters…though that’s a tough stance to take some days :)

    @Howard – appreciate it! I’m exploring options, but I think an open research team/lab model is the direction I’ll adopt. Important research should happen regardless of funding.

    @JimL – great advice. thanks for sharing it. You are, of course, right: there are many aspects that are beyond our control. Best to keep a light spirit and optimistic stance in face of both success and adversity.

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  16. gsiemens wrote:

    @DanP – would be good to spend some time brainstorming startups and such. If you suddenly find yourself with extra time, let me know. Even if nothing comes of it, the idea exchange would be worth it!

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  17. gsiemens wrote:

    @JohnE fully agree about the importance of evidence and that peer review and evaluation of that evidence is important. And there is value in engaging in the dominant narrative spaces that define a discipline. I still think, however, that we need to see beyond the traditional peer review process, especially since that process is often controlled by publishers that are not interested in advancing a domain of knowledge so much as in monetizing it. Review of evidence can happen in alternative formats…

    @DanielC – interesting to read your comments right after JohnE’s. Academic journals do not directly benefit society (as you noted). Or, perhaps, I should say those journals are often too closed to benefit society. In order to access a big chunk of the research being conducted today, an individual needs access to a university library. So while the research is valuable, access problems hamper dissemination. There’s a reason why open journals often have higher citation counts than closed journals – people can actually find and read them!

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  18. gsiemens wrote:

    @serena – thanks

    @alex – yes! “What is needed in the academy are metrics that communicate excellence beyond traditional publishing”

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink