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 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.
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: