This week I have been reading through my Lifestream blog and tidying up my tags and metadata.
In a way I have been analysing some fairly low key learning analytics on myself. After adding and editing the tags on all of my posts I was able to quickly identify and notice the key themes that I have studied over the duration of this course. Until recently I had considered basing my assignment on algorithmic cultures and their influence in shaping digital education. However after reviewing my tags I noticed that over the last 11 weeks I have shown the strongest and most interest in community cultures – particularly within MOOCs. As a student, it was the first time I have been able to use data to make an informed and proactive decision about my studies with no influence from my tutors or the University as an institution.
I used the rest of this week to dabble in some of the less popular themes within my blog, such as the use of music in education. My tweet referencing a blog that draws metaphoric comparisons between MOOCs and music albums killed two birds with one stone. I was able to revisit the music themes whilst exploring the use of metaphors with community culture.
I have also visited the blogs of my peers to see what technologies have been used over the course to create artefacts and ethnographies in the hope to find some inspiration for presenting my digital essay.
I chose ‘The Internet of Things’ (IoT) MOOC delivered by Kings College London via FutureLearn to be the subject of my micro-ethnography. I decided upon this MOOC as my IT background would act as a point of reference when wading through the mass content that is held within the course.
Before beginning my research, I ensured that I had taken appropriate steps to satisfy any ethical considerations arising from ethnographic observations. I contacted both the course facilitator, Prof. Mischa Dohler and the General Enquiries contact at FutureLearn to declare my intentions and make them aware that I was conducting an ethnography.
To begin, I felt it compulsory to establish just how massive the IoT MOOC was. I was forced into contacting Prof. Dohler as the information required wasn’t readily available to students enrolled on the course. I was intrigued by the idea that 8566 individuals were participating in an environment without having a full understanding of its scale.
Amongst the masses, there would inevitably be wide and varied sources of motivation for participation. The goal for what seemed like the overwhelming majority of participants was business opportunity or financial gain – however there were mentions of other motivators:
I decided to focus my ethnography on the role that discussion forums play in developing a community culture within a MOOC. In preparation for this I charted the relationship between the total number of comment contributions with the chronology of each forum. My findings were consistent with Fischer’s (2014) observation that the participation rate within a MOOC is usually always low.
From this I was able to make some important observations.
The cause of the constant decline in participation was difficult to prove without statistics being readily available. Instead I was able to make a comparison between the aforementioned motivators and Kozinets when he surmised that ‘if future interaction is anticipated, participants will act in a friendlier way, be more cooperative, self-disclose and generally engage in socially positive communication’ (Kozinets, 2010, p 24).
I noted that community building and academic discourse did not appear to be of any priority to those who admitted to enrolling on the MOOC to generate money. Instead, their forum comments contributed to what I previously referred to as “digital cacophony“. The result was a linear community with large volumes of people voicing their opinion without appearing to interact or engage with others.
Interestingly I noticed that each discussion forum was either not introduced, or introduced with a closed question, such as:
The resulting answers and opinions arrived in large volumes but there was very little interaction between any respondents. I put this down to the following reasons:
participants seemed to want to satisfy their own needs rather than assist in the learning of others
participants were not encouraged to challenge opinions and ask questions of each other
there were simply too many comments to interact with and people seemed overwhelmed
In conclusion, although I was not an active participant in the MOOC I felt largely insignificant as a learner and almost unable to make sense of what was going on. The discussion forums were the only way to communicate with others on the course but I felt that the design of the course, student motivations and lack of direction had a detrimental effect on the community culture within the course.
Baggaley, J. (2014). MOOCs: digesting the facts. Distance Education 35(2): pp. 159-163.
Fischer, G. (2014). Beyond hype and underestimation: identifying research challenges for the future of MOOCs. Distance Education 35 (2): pp. 149-158.
Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Understanding Culture Online. Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. In Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. (London, Sage): pp. 21-40.
I stumbled across this video and in my opinion it is like watching a documentary version of the Lister et al (2009) reading. The themes, story, facts and issues are exactly the same.
Lister, M., Dovey, J., Giddings, S., Kelly, K. (2009). Networks, users and economics. In New media: a critical introduction.M. Lister (Eds.) (London, Routledge): pp. 163-236.
Global Digital Culture: Cultural Differences and the Internet
Now, from portraits of individuals painted on canvato that vast virtual image of modern society that is the Internet,journalist Alexs Krotoski looks into the evolving face of the web,to find out what it says about who we are.
The founders of the web had a dream: they imagined the global cyber-utopia founded on the ethos of free information for all. But the problem with this vision is that it assumes that we’re all one people with the same shared ideals. But we’re not. The web isn´t neutral.It mirrors the values of those of us who go online and it reflects the ideologies of the people who design and build the services.
Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia believes shared information promotes democracy. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, says privacy is dead. And Larry Page and Sergey Brin from Google have decided that the most valuable information should be determined and filtered by the crowd. These are profoundly political positions, immersed in western democratic ideas. The web that the majority of us recognise and use, here in the English speaking western world, has characteristics of our ideological and cultural values, but the Internet centre of gravity is quickly shifting away from the West.
A new Internet world is coming online. Of the 2 billion Internet users, 272 million are in North America: that´s more than three quarters of their population. But China has 485 million Internet users, the biggest number of any country. And that´s still only a third of its population. This burgeoning and colossal online community does not access the western web but it’s developed its own home grown websites like Baidu, Tencent and Sina Weibo. But perhaps the greatest difference, at least from our western perspective, is the degree to which China´s Internet is controlled by government censorship, referred to as “The Great Firewall”. It´s the perfect example of how technology can be imbued with an ideology, in this case of top-down control.
That perception of censorship…How aware are the Chinese people of this?
via YouTube https://youtu.be/UNwnQkGpKPE
I enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed the Skype session on Thursday.
“It got me thinking about how individual we all are and how we all have different needs.”
That is exactly what I took away from the conversation.
It is interesting to compare how we have been interacting on this course with the observations we are making of the interactions within our MOOCs. I hope I don’t miss anything in my ethnography by taking everything at face value.
It would be easy to look at the Education and Digital Cultures site and presume that we are all compiling our Lifestream blogs and occasionally commenting on each others posts. Where as in reality and behind the scenes we are Skyping, Tweeting, emailing, private messaging, using Hangouts etc – and in doing so created another “layer” (almost) of a community.
I hope that this isn’t going on behind the scenes in my MOOC without me being aware of it, as I find it all incredibly fascinating and would love to make it the focus of my ethnography.
Thanks again for your time the other night! It was good to catch up. Let’s do it again soon.
Things have progressed a little slower than I would have liked this week – mainly because I had a bad cold and a busy week at work. I have however, made some pleasing progress with the course readings.
I found the Kozinets (2010) chapter very interesting and could relate to it by comparing my own experiences – of which I have blogged about. The aspects of online communities that he referenced in his publication is of high relevance to the themes that I am hoping to investigate with my micro-ethnography. I spent a little time investigating communities out with a learning environment to understand the dynamic and interaction between members of different online communities. I was able to reinforce some key themes raised by both Kozinets (2010) and Stewart (2013).
I have made some important progress with the ethical considerations for my micro-ethnography in contacting the MOOC facilitator and provider to obtain permission to conduct my research. The responses that I received would perhaps suggest that requests of this nature are quite common. I shared my findings with my peers via the Digital Education Hub in case they could be of any help to anyone else enrolled on a FutureLearn course. I am now confident that I have covered all angles and am ready to progress with my research. It is my intention, however, to check with James and Jeremy just to make sure.
I also enjoyed another group tutorial this week. I always find it really useful to hear other students thoughts and opinions around digital communities and use it as an ideal opportunity to ask my tutors questions.
Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Understanding Culture Online. In Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. (London, Sage): pp. 21-40.
Stewart, B. (2013). Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 9(2): pp. 228-238.
I have not long finished the Kozinets chapter entitiled ‘Understanding Culture Online’, Netnography: doing ethnographic research online‘ and found it very easy to relate to some of the observations that he noted throughout his studies.
Over the past decade I have been a member of different online communities ranging from personal interests (such as football related forums) to work-related groups (such as user forums). Until completing the Kozinets chapter I hadn’t ever really stopped to think about the dynamic of each community and the types of relationships that members within them form.
“How deep, long-lasting, meaningful and intense are those relationships? Are these people considered to be merely somewhat-interesting strangers, or are they long term friends that are as close to the participant as anyone else in their life?” (Kozinets, 2010, p 32).
This quote has been ringing in my ears since I read it. For me, the answer to this question influences the formation of a community and the development of a natural synergy.
Anyway, whilst lying in bed the other evening I spent some time reading through my Twitter timeline and eventually went down the rabbit hole (randomly diving into random conversation threads without any clear idea of where I was going) and stumbled on a link to a conversation thread on a parenting community called Mumsnet. In this thread there were several parents debating their opinion of a particular topic started by a current member. As the debate went on people were challenging, agreeing, disagreeing, dismissing, and praising each other based on their contributions to the thread. There was a level of interaction that allowed other members to consider changing their own opinion or forming new ones based on the experience and opinions of others.
In contrasting the Mumsnet community with the ‘Internet of Things’ MOOC community the difference is immediately noticeable despite having striking similarities. Both communities make use of discussion forums and both forums take a Q and A approach. In Mumsnet, a member asks a question and peers reply. In the MOOC the tutor asks a question and the students reply. Yet there is a distinct lack of interaction in the MOOC.
Could this be because of the reason that people join these communities?
When considering virtual worlds, Kozinets (2010) suggests that they are “structured so that social intercourse is the primary pursuit and objective” and that communities will therefore naturally form through discussion and interaction. However, a MOOC’s primary pursuit and objective, it could be argued, is personal interest and gain where social interaction plays a lesser role. Maybe this is the reason I am noticing such differences despite their similarities.
This is something that I will definitely be considering when conducting my micro-ethnography.
Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Understanding Culture Online. In Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. (London, Sage): pp. 21-40.
I’ll leave you with these (rather humerous) observations of the Mumsnet community that I sourced from Twitter:
By default I have always considered a MOOC to be massive based purely upon the large number of participants enrolling on a course. However I hadn’t really considered that it could be massive in terms of the large geographical distances that separate each student. Or perhaps the size of the course. Maybe it could be a mix of all three.
I read this short piece by Downes (2013) – a online learning researcher – who offered his thoughts:
“I’ve been asked this a few times recently, so I thought I should expend a few paragraphs describing the difference between online courses that are and are not ‘massive’. I argue, first, that it’s not the raw count of participants that’s important, but how the course is structured. It’s not simply a big course. Then given that caveat I go on to explain that a course needs 150 active participants to be thought of as ‘massive’ – this because 150 people – Dunbar’s Number – is more than any one person can attend to, and hence is a course that will resist groupish properties (such as an emphasis on sameness rather than diversity).”
I made this post in the hope that the #mscedc group could discuss their thoughts. I would, therefore, welcome any comments from my peers.
UPDATE (16th Feb 2017) – I posted this entry prior to starting the Stewart (2013) reading. I have just noticed Stewart defines “Massive” in the context of the MOOC.