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.

MOOC Overview
MOOC Overview

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:

MOOC Overview
MOOC Overview

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.

Forum contribution chart
Forum contribution chart

From this I was able to make some important observations.

General Observations
General 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:

Question 1
Question 1

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:

  1. participants seemed to want to satisfy their own needs rather than assist in the learning of others
  2. participants were not encouraged to challenge opinions and ask questions of each other
  3. there were simply too many comments to interact with and people seemed overwhelmed

The participants in the IoT MOOC did not comment very much, this may have been because they felt over-whelmed by the peer-to-peer approach (Baggaley 2014).

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.


Week 6 – Weekly Synthesis

I’be spent much of my time this week “lurking” in my MOOC looking for some inspiration to base my micro-ethnography on. I’ve been toying with a couple of idea throughout the week but still remain slightly indecisive. The Baggaley (2014) reading had me considering taking a metaphoric approach to my ethnography, however the Fournier et al (2014) paper had me fascinated by the idea that a community within a MOOC is fabricated by a rich and complex mass of people with differing motivations and agendas – and as such, I feel it may be better to study it on it’s own merits.

Anyway, I call this week’s theme “Backstage”. I have been trying to look under the bonnet of my MOOC and turn my attentions to what could be going on behind the scenes rather than what first meets the eye. This was prompted by me noticing some behaviours of MOOC participants that would suggest that they are there for other reasons than to learn about IoT.  The course leader kindly informed me that a whopping 8566 people are currently enrolled on the MOOC. Based on this I was able to put the size of the discussion forums into perspective and appreciate just now many “lurkers” and “newbies” are taking a passive interest in the MOOC.

I’ve also been considering what influence (if any) factors such as course design, activities and assessment are having on the community. I have  noticed some closed question discussion forum prompts that are making communications between learners difficult. However I have noticed that the learners with the most “likes” on their comments often pose questions and offer experience of their own to start discussions of their own. This probably explains why I often think of the IoT MOOC as a connectivist/constructivist hybrid.


Baggaley, J. (2014). MOOCs: digesting the facts. Distance Education 35(2): pp. 159-163.

Fournier, H., Kop, R., and Durand, G. (2014). Challenges to research in MOOCs. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 10(1): pp. 1-15.


By: smilligan

Hi Helen,

I was interested to read this post and to read of your experience with FutureLearn. I can relate to the feeling of being a needle in a haystack when it comes to making comments and contributions to discussion threads within the MOOC.

I wonder if other learners within the course notice this feeling. I also wonder what influence this feeling has on the overall participation and experience of learning within a MOOC.

I liked your idea of updating your profile to notify others of your micro-ethnography. I hope you don’t mind but I followed your lead on that.

Good read.


from Comments on: Ethics http://ift.tt/2kF8Who

‘The Internet of Things MOOC’ – First Impressions

I tweeted earlier this week that I had registered and joined by first ever MOOC. Having spent a short while investigating my options I decided on ‘The Internet of Things‘ delivered by King’s College London via FutureLearn.

I have been aware of the idea of the MOOC for some time but for one reason or another never quite got round to trying it for myself. I also recall a reading from the IDEL course (I’m still trying to find it) highlighting that MOOCs have a very low completion rate as people dip in and out of the course to learn about specific topics rather than bother with the full course in its entirety.

Anyway, my first impressions were quite good. I immediately thought that the FutureLearn resource could easily be described as a Learning Management System (LMS)/Social Networking Site (SNS) hybrid. On one side of my screen was the course content and on the other was a comments log with striking similarities to Facebook (comments, likes etc).

Though I am not actively participating in the MOOC but instead observing from a distance, I noticed some course characteristics that I could relate to Lister et al (2009) when he considers the construction of self. In writing about the construction of identities in CMC and post-structuralism, Lister suggests that “identity is constructed through discourse”.  Throughout the first week of my MOOC there has certainly been a considerable amount of students leaving questions and comments on the topics described by the tutor. However, of the 607 students who have left comment I have yet to see any replies or further conversation or discussion. I would best describe it as digital cacophony.

I’ll stress again that it is only Week 1 of the course and perhaps things may change as we progress. However it is hard to imaging an effective learning community forming based on what I have witnessed so far. I have completed my profile and posted to the discussion thread. I am there, I am participating, yet I feel largely anonymous.

Perhaps my observations are a result of the influence of Web 2.0. There is evidence of newer web media and formats similar to popular online services within my MOOC and the participants seem to be displaying behaviours that are typical of social networking (use of emojis, word abbreviations etc). It could also explain the dip in/dip out approach that I mentioned earlier.

Finally, my MOOC certainly seems to be connecting large volumes of people from a large number of countries throughout the world. It will be interesting to observe their differing experience and knowledge of the “Internet of Things”. I will certainly be looking for further evidence of the “digital divide” partly caused by geographical and economical differences that Lister et al (2009) describes.


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.