It has been a relatively quiet week on my Lifestream Blog this week as I found myself ploughing my efforts into my micro-ethnography.
However, I would name the theme of the content that I had managed to get up as motivation. Following on from last week’s themes of “backstage” and factors that influence the development of community cultures, this week I have been considering how MOOC participants react to these factors and if their individual motivation for enrolling on a course can influence how well a community develops.
The YouTube video entitled Global Digital Culture: Cultural Differences and the Internet suggests that online spaces aren’t neutral and that they mirror the values of both those who enter these spaces and those who design them. I felt that this video was consistent with the findings of my micro-ethnography in that the scale and wide range of motivators within a MOOC can make community building a difficult task.
I was wary that I may have made a bad choice in deciding on the Internet of Things MOOC for my micro-ethnography and that my experience of the course may influence my decision to attempt another in the future. Therefore the rest of my Lifestream content is comprised of my comments and interactions within the MSCEDC community to draw further conclusions. I am pleased that it certainly appears MOOCs are enjoyable, meaningful and social places if the main motivator is learning.
Motivation for me is key but I also LOVED the content. The videos were full of detail and the professor spoke to the camera as if she were tutoring you as an individual whilst manipulating slides and images at the same time. She recorded an experiment using an eye patch and it was entertaining. She couldn’t throw the bean bag at the target accurately as she couldn’t assess the position of the target properly, she was used to vision with both eyes. Another experiment involved a video of a man using inversion prism goggles over two weeks. An image is usually projected onto the back of the retina upside-down and backwards so the goggles influenced this in a way that he would actually experience the world upside-down and backwards. Simple things such as filling a cup of water was difficult for him at the start of the experiment but over time his brain began to process the information and adjust to normal function. As I said, I LOVED it.
I was particularly interested when you said that you would see the course through to completion despite acknowledging that there are things that you find obstructive or off-putting as a learner. I considered motivators and completion rates in my ethnography so it was good to read of your experience.
I also wondered if you felt that the pre-recorded videos felt staged and over enthusiastic? The ones in my MOOC did and it gave a very strange feel.
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.
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.
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