10 Replies to “Micro-ethnography of a MOOC about muckraking”

  1. Clear, concise and focussed. Good work. Again it makes me rethink about my own sprawling approach to the Nethnography. Although too late now.

    One thing I thought of whilst reading this was the commercial ramifications of self-identification. By self-identifying we open ourselves up to targeted marketing. As mentioned on page 39 of the Kozinets reading (https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/31334_02_Kozinets_Ch_02.pdf). This bears out on your MOOC with the course leaders taking the opportunity to target the journalists with reminders about paying for certification certificates (page 15 of your PDF).

  2. Dammit there’s only one s in focused. Should have checked that before posting.

  3. Thanks, Dan, for your comment. I think you’re absolutely right about the commercial side of things – I’d briefly thought that myself but really struggled with articulating it. So thanks for that too!

  4. Hi Helen

    I concur with Dan – your micro ethnography is clear and focused and I admire the properly academic way you undertook it, particularly the way you constructed a methodology:

    “I came up with coding to thematise my notes to find the popular voices and the popular ideas.”

    I am interested why, for the journalists who self-identified, their “experience and knowledge, while of significant personal use” did not “translate into authority”. This seems to run counter to Wenger’s depiction of Communities of Practice where experts in a domain do have status. Perhaps it is because they were visiting a community and not in their own.

    The presentation of your work was fantastic. What did you use to produce it? I liked the way you highlighted salient points on each ‘card’ (?).


    1. Thank you, Cathy, I really appreciate your comment. I’m so impressed with the ingenuity of our classmates in selecting exciting software to use – this, regrettably, is not fancy: just powerpoint slides, saved as a pdf 🙂

      I think my ‘translate into authority’ comment needs to be taken with some caution – the small sample size and a sort of wishy-washy understanding of what ‘authority’ might imply in this context means that it’s a pretty subjective thing for me to have said. I think how we might recognise authority is also open to some interpretation!

      That said, I wondered if it might be a question of ratio, whether a 50:50 expert/non-expert split might lead to a different sense of community than a, say, 5:95 split.

  5. This is a really detailed and informative micro-ethnography Helen, nice work!

    ‘Does self-identification as a journalist have any impact on the development of a community?’

    This is a really great question. ‘Self-identification’ seems to be a significant aspect of MOOCs, doesn’t it? Certainly, the enthusiasm with which ‘introduce yourself’ forums are populated would seem to indicate that. Perhaps this is something to do with the nature of the ‘openness’ MOOCs afford: given there is an ‘open door’, we don’t know very much about ‘who’ people are.

    Great to see your methods described – the thematic coding of notes sounds really productive, and it definitely in line with ethnographic practices. It’s also really good to see your reflections on the disadvantages of your methods – coding provides a kind of transparency to our interpretation, but it also sets limits and boundaries on meaning.

    Really superb and detailed analysis here. I thought you could have said more about the message from course leaders at the half way point – as Daniel commented? It seems to be quite an instrumental view of what can be done with background information of participants.

    The two themes of story telling and ‘the time is now’ are fantastic ways to understand the community formation, really rich ways of delving into the developing of shared experiences and group cohesiveness.

    ‘Identity matters but in a limited way’

    I wondered if there was something missing in this analysis, in the sense that you are not considering the people who *didn’t* post. What about participants who may have found self-identification as a journalist intimidating, and so not feeling able to contribute to the conversation, yet negatively affected by it. Or at least, we can only make assumptions about community based on what we see in the forums, and the discourse there is perhaps not ‘all’ of the ‘community’.

    Great to bring things back to Kozinet’s work. This is a really superb micro-ethnography Helen!

    1. Thank you, Jeremy, for your detailed comment. You’re absolutely right about the commercial point made by the course leaders and highlighted by Dan, who managed to express a vague thought I’d had during the analysis far more cogently than I could. I hadn’t considered it from the context of instrumentalism, however, and I’m interested in that perspective. Another way to interpret it, I think, is as an indicator from the course leaders as to who this MOOC is really /for/, an insinuation that they consider it to be something of considerable professional use. While this isn’t particularly surprising or unexpected, it does shift the way that the MOOC is framed in relation to ‘traditional’ HE offerings – more as an alternative, perhaps?

      Your point about missing analysis is certainly true, and it is – in my experience, at least – a feature of much ethnographic research: it’s hard to truly understand the implication of what is absent. I also wondered about the journalists who chose not to reveal the fact in the discussion boards – there is, I think, a substantive difference between one’s answer in a quantitative survey and one’s self-expression in a text box. This may be another subset of people who are ‘absent’, but in a different way, and if I’d had more time (and more access to community data!) I would have loved to explore that too..

  6. I really appreciate your succinct engagement with the literature, and the light-bulb moments you generate as a result. The narrative arc, e.g. the xMOOC / cMOOC distinction, is sharp all the way through. Thank you for modeling these and other aspects so well – really very helpful.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Matthew! It is very much appreciated. It’s funny because the xMOOC/cMOOC slides were really an afterthought! I’d finished it, and was about to post it, and then I read Myles’ micro-ethnography on Padlet and thought he’d explored the tension between xMOOC and cMOOC in his ethnography so well and to such great effect that it might be worth my explicitly mentioning it. So it’s interesting (and very complimentary to me) that you’ve said the narrative was in the rest of the slides…

      Thank you!

  7. Hi Helen
    I am struck by distinct similarities and differences between both our approaches to the artefact and the research.
    Firstly, I built my artefact over the week using my Robot artefact file and was mortified to find that it was so similar to yours, with text and images in PowerPoint – so apologies for any unconscious IP theft on my part. I did make some last minute adjustments to a few slides to change the visualisation of some data to try to change tack.
    With regards the courses yours appears to be very niche whilst mine attracted participants with incredibly diverse backgrounds coming together in a shared interest in design and how it could be used to solve community problems.
    Overall, your research was wonderfully in-depth and probed the complexity of identity with great clarity. I worried about using direct quotations from participants even though I clearly identified myself as a researcher and opted for the word cloud approach, which wasn’t as rich as your stories. I am not sure/clear how you could have gone about considering the missing community as Jeremy suggests.
    Congratulations on a very stylish, detailed piece.

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