During this week’s Google Hangout, James Lamb asked me about the differences between the Tweetorial and the discussion forums within a MOOC and how they each contribute to what I describe as digital cacophony. The above image notes some key differences that I observed whilst participating in each.
I think it’s an interesting point you make about the LMS. Something I noticed very early on in my second MOOC was how differently the tool was used and I certainly think that it played a big role in inhibiting interaction.
I was really good to be able to discuss this MOOC with you behind the scenes. The interaction we had , help me identify the key differences in regards to community development and community participation.
Great work! I really like your metaphor and think you have done a great job of presenting it visually.
I am particularly interested in your angry encounter with another learner on your course. I felt that my MOOC was so big and had such a diverse group of learners with a wide variety of motivators, that I would have been very surprised to see an individual challenged based on their reasons for being on the course. I found there to be a very selfish ethos within my MOOC and nobody seemed to bother with what anyone else was doing.
I did notice, however, that you said your course wasn’t very big.
So I wonder if people who are aware of the size of their online community behave in different manners. Perhaps the person in your encounter felt that their voice would be louder in a tight-knit community, rather than drowned out in the masses?
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.
[…] to the needs of my household. My head is constantly stuck in a book. I am now referred to as a ‘sook’ amongst my peers. They laugh at the fact that I am only doing the one module of the Digital […]
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.
It’s late and I’m tired. I’ve done enough reading for today so thought I would watch a TED Talk before going to bed. Now I find myself updating my blog.
In the video above Ellen Isaacs is explaining the need for ethnographic observation within both technology design and differing environments. I couldn’t help but pay particular attention to the following offerings during her talk and loosely relate them to the culture within my MOOC:
1 – Human behaviour
Do people engage in the way that they think they are?
If an ethnography is an observational study of people’s behaviour in a community or environment, then I have been wondering if informing course participants that they are the subjects of research would influence their behaviour, and thus, not giving a true reflection of their behaviour. In the case of the IoT MOOC I suspect that I have went unnoticed – however it is something I have considered nevertheless.
My earlier posts have suggested that I am struggling to understand how people can construct knowledge in a connectivist MOOC without participating in any discourse whatsoever. In the case of the MOOC, I can personally relate to Fournier et al (2014) when they noted that around 1/3 of MOOC participants either found listening and reflecting or lurking as effective learning strategies. I fully expect to learn a little about IoT as a result of observing the MOOC but not actively participating. Whether that learning is correct is another matter.
I couldn’t help but compare the street sign examples in the video to the course content of the MOOC. What if the community within the MOOC was being influenced by differing understandings and interpretations of the static text and video within the course? After all, there will inevitably be people with differing experience, existing knowledge and (as previously tweeted) levels of English fluency within the MOOC. In other terms, I think until now my mind has been too focused on how the community is forming under its own weight without considering other factors such as course design.
Fournier, H., Kop, R., and Durand, G. (2014). Challenges to research in MOOCs. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 10(1): pp. 1-15.
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.