As a staff member at Trent Online, and a T.A. for an online course during the pandemic, Christian Metaxas has firsthand experience with the challenges and opportunities related to teaching and learning online. He believes the recent explosion of online learning has shown a need for students and educators to negotiate learning experiences together, and he’s now exploring the process through his Ph.D. in the Interdisciplinary Social Research (IDSR) program at Trent.
Metaxas sees incorporating feedback—both qualitative feedback and behavioural data—as crucial to making incremental improvements to online learning. One advantage of using a learning management system (LMS) to host online learning is the ability to collect granular data as feedback describing engagement, which can then be used to improve the user experience. As this data collection may present ethical challenges, Metaxas believes it is important that students have access to their own user behavioral data. His Ph.D. research goal is to design an ethical system for tracking behaviour on an LMS in order to utilize the power of behaviour tracking while maintaining transparency around the collection and use of data.
“What I'd like to see is a design-based research approach where we're combining qualitative feedback with the quantitative tracking that using a learning management system like Blackboard can afford us. And doing it in a way where we can iteratively improve these learning experiences in a way where nobody is left out,” said Metaxas. “Over time, iteratively, generatively, we're going to be able to know that we're improving our experiences here at Trent and that those improvements can be transferable and deployed elsewhere.”
The value of a “Wild Card” Ph.D. program
As an explicitly interdisciplinary program, IDSR allows students to critically examine social issues related to their individual expertise while being supervised by faculty across university departments. Upon entering the IDSR Ph.D. program, Metaxas had a background in English literature, experimental digital media, and work experience at Trent Online. His supervisor in the IDSR program, Sociology professor Dr. Momin Rahman, helps to add a sociological lens to his experience and perspectives.
At the 2022 Open/Technology in Education, Society, and Scholarship (OTESSA) conference Metaxas had the opportunity to use a wild-card speaker slot to present an experimental video about transitioning into a post-pandemic world.
“At the OTESSA 2022 conference they had a wild card spot for speakers. So, if you didn't see yourself in these very designated tracks at the conference, you could put in for a wild card spot. And I feel like IDSR gives you that wild card opportunity. It's interdisciplinary so you don't have to go into your Ph.D. feeling narrowly restricted,” said Metaxas. “The IDSR program specifically aligned with my professional goals and values in a way where I would be afforded the opportunity to critically examine what we do at the office. At its core—the learning that happens—that's a digitally and socially mediated experience. And it’s representative of a lot of these kinds of social issues that we're navigating in the modern era.”
Learn more about Trent’s Interdisciplinary Social Research program.