Week 4 Summary – Choosing a MOOC and thinking about the digital ethnography

The term MOOC was first coined in 2008. Stanford University offered its first MOOC in 2012, entitlted ‘An Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ and had over 160k individuals enrol, with 20, 000 passing the course.

Choosing a MOOC – perhaps easier said than done! After initially opting for ‘An Age of Sustainable Development‘ through edX, I soon discovered that the online community within this particular MOOC was significantly lacking in dialogue in the discussion forums. As an alternative I decided to enrol in Holocaust: The Final Solution with Coursera. As a teacher of secondary history I was keen to further my own professional understanding of this topic, in parralel with developing my digital ethnography for this task.

My lifestream additions this week have focused on the broader theme of online community and how this differs from a corporeal community, as well as the development of collective intelligence within wiki sites. A common thread throughout the blog entries has been how to make an online community successful, when there are so many challenges and road blocks that can hinder success. The power of anonymity, intangibility and falsification were all highlighted as potential barriers and points of tension. Some of these entries touched on what had been outlined in Lister (2009) who identified the difficulty in creating community online when ‘participants are there but not there, in touch but never touching, as deeply connected as they are profoundly alienated’ (Lister, 2009, 209). Mark Willis’ TEDx presentation however, provides ways in which real online community can be achieved. He posits that when the following four criteria are met – longevity, shared values, community management and trust – then the group can truly be deemed as ‘community’.

As I progress in the ethnographic study of this MOOC, I am keen to examine whether my chosen course meets Willis’ 4 point criteria for community culture, particularly with that of shared values.  This is further strengthened in Saadatdoost et al (2014) who states that “culture components include shared beliefs, values, perspectives and practices.” I am therefore hoping to investigate how far the participants in this MOOC share values, and if so, what are these? How much do these values provide cohesion within and across the discussion forums? Also, are there tensions that arise due to the presence of disparate, incompatible values? And if so, how are these tensions diffused? Lots of interesting questions to take with me, as I move forward with my chosen MOOC.

Lister, M. (2009) ‘Networks, users and economics’ in New media: a critical introduction, pp163 – 236, London: Routledge

Saadatdoost, R., Sim. A., Mittal, N., Jafarkarimi, H. & Mei Hee, J. (2014) ‘A netnography study of MOOC Community’, PACIS 2014 Proceedings. 116. http://aisel.aisnet.org/pacis2014/116.

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