By: Renee Furner

Hi Stuart – and thanks for your comment and generous review!

I’ve added a more wordy, written format of my micro-ethnography, because, as you allude to, there are quite possibly more factors that were influential in the low uptake of communication. The short version:
-it’s a new ‘group’ – it’s probably unrealistic to expect norm formation and relational exchanges, as per Kozinets’ community progression model (2010);
-the MOOC only lasts for 6 weeks at any rate, so it is unlikely that participants anticipate future interaction, and therefore they may remain task oriented (Walther, 1997, cited in Kozinets, 2010, p. 24)
-the course is, like many MOOCs, information oriented, and prescriptive about what needs to be learned. Perhaps real participation needs to be student driven: students deciding what and how they learn (and with whom).

Heading to your blog just now.. Thanks again!

from Comments on: micro-ethnography

By: msleeman

Stuart, that’s a helpful comment about scale – ‘massive’ might not allow community, but it might not allow unwarranted policing by participants either 😉 Perhaps selfishness allows a certain freedom, even if not a sense of interaction.

Scale is a dimension I don’t remember Kozinets bringing into his analysis, and probably a significant one, too. And, as you note, it would then, as you also say, be a question of perception, too.

from Comments on: My mini-ethnography about a MOOC



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 5 – Lifestream Synthesis

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.


Comparing communities – The MOOC and Mumsnet

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:

Twitter comments
Twitter comments