Week 7 Summary – Results of the Digital Ethnography

On completion of my ethnographic study, I have uncovered, in one particular discussion thread of my chosen MOOC, a certain degree of ‘shared value’ –  a key component of online community, stipulated by Mark Wills’ in his TEDx speech. This was evident in the commonality and repetitive nature of the language being used throughout the thread, from post to post. The visual results of this are shown in the word cloud in the attached ThingLink, along with commentary of the methodology and results.

Some key reflections:- In carrying out this study was frustrated by the fact that I encountered far more limitation in the digital ethnography than anticipated. Firstly, finding a MOOC discussion forum that engendered enough dialogue to allow for a study to take place was perhaps the biggest challenge. And once this was finally done, being able to immerse myself fully into the MOOC discussion was not always possible due to time constraints – as such I found myself acting as a passive observer, rather than an active participant. Furthermore, the qualitative nature of the results made it difficult to analyse and draw precise conclusions. This is likely due to the fact that the study was small in nature. Had this been scaled up and carried out over a longer period of time, a clearer perspective of community and shared values could have been extrapolated from the results. Consequently, I do not feel that the results of my ethnography give a true representation of the community culture that exists within the MOOC forum, but merely a tiny fragment of what it may be.

Week 6 Summary – Conducting an Ethnography

Some suggestions for studying an ethnography – Click on the image

Christine Hine argues that ethnography is ‘a methodology that offers little in the way of prescription to its practitioners and has no formula for judging the accuracy of its results’ (Hine, 2000, 3). To someone such as myself, having never carried out an ethnographic study before, these words are not particularly reassuring. However, as I have been working towards the completion of my digital ethnography, I have been buoyed by the abundant presence of online advice regarding the skills, motivations and qualities required to conduct a study of this nature. Consequently, this week’s lifestream blog has mostly crystallised around these pockets of guidance. ‘How to do Ethnography’ by the Visual Communicating Guy (VCG) was particularly useful in how it established eight clear steps in conducting ethnographic research. Although, as the scope of our digital ethnography is limited and small-scale, some of those steps (e.g. Step 6 &7) are not pertinent. The YouTube video of Professor Sienna Craig, outlining the ethical considerations was also very helpful in establishing some of  the ethical parameters that I should be considering, as I continue to observe and be a part of my online community.

However, it was the YouTube videos by Robert Kozinets and Daniel Miller that were most pivotal in helping to bridge the gap between the ethnographic aspect of the study and the world of digital education. As Miller states the study of anthropology, in its desire to understand people, is essentially the most appropriate crucible for understanding the world of digital.

Hine, C. (2000) The virtual objects of ethnography, in Hine, C. Virtual Ethnography, pp. 41 – 66, London: Sage

Liked on YouTube: Digital Anthropology Daniel Miller

This YouTube clip was excellent! It really helped me to contextualise the relationship between ethnography and the digital studies. Leading anthropologist Daniel Miller, from University College London,  says ‘the very best way of way of understanding the digital in as much as when we talk about the digital, clearly we’ve got to be interested in the consequences that it has for people” and “that is really why this is the right domain for anthropology.”


Week 5 Summary – Liberating MOOCs, redefining education

As I delved further into the study of my chosen MOOC, my social media postings in the life stream reflected a growing curiosity in the possibility that massive open learning of this nature, is potentially offering a new route to formal academic certification. Indeed, with this shift in paradigm Bayne et. al (2019) argue that “the open education movement has predominantly framed its mission in terms of ‘freedom from’, characterising educational institutions as rigid, antiquated, inaccessible and ultimately ‘closed’, in opposition to which the open movement is cast as a disruptive liberation”. (Bayne et al, 2019, 50) This has congruence with the TEDx YouTube talk by Jonathan Schaeffer, who discusses the disruptive nature that MOOCs have on traditional learning in tertiary education, and examines the manner in which this routeway to formal education could be actualised.

This question of ‘disruptive liberation’ is further examined in the BBC Sounds podcasts by asking ‘could these new free online courses open higher education to parts of the world in a way that’s been unthinkable up until now or are MOOCs an experiment that could destroy centuries of tradition?’ In the second of the two podcasts – Measuring MOOCS by Science AAAS, quantifiable measures are shared to demonstrate how disrupting and liberating, MOOCs can actually be. By sharing some of the enrolments figures of the popular Introduction to Computer Science MOOC at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (an impressive 350k), it is possible to understand the power that the MOOCs have in creating ‘freedom from’ the traditional institution.


Bayne, S., Evans, P., Ewins, R., Knox, J., Lamb, J., Macleod, H., O’Shea, C., Ross, J., Sheail, P., Sinclair, C. (2019 DRAFT). The Manifesto for Teaching Online.

BBC Sounds: The Documentary: MOOCs

BBC Sounds Podcast: Click to access podcast

Some key takeaways from the podcast:-

“Could these new free online university courses open higher education up to parts of the world in a way that’s been unthinkable up until now, or are MOOCs an experiment that could destroy centuries of tradition?”

Amazing fact – at Harvard more people have signed up to its MOOCs than have graduated in its 300 year history!!

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.

Liked on YouTube: The Online Community-A New Paradigm: Mark Wills at TEDxSanLuisObispo



Lister (2009) attempts to define the meaning of ‘online community’ in the context of an environment where ‘the participants are there but not there, in touch but never touching, as deeply connected as they are profoundly alienated’ (Lister, 2009, 209). Thus, this poses a number of challenges, for definitively identifing ‘online community’

Mark Willis’ TEDx aims to show how he believes a real community can be  fostered within an online setting, by focusing attention on 4 criteria for success – longevity, shared values, community management and trust.

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





Liked on YouTube: “Introduction to communities of practice,” (Wenger-Trayner, 2015)

Saadatdoost et. al posit that “cohesion in a MOOC community is brought about by the domain of doubts, questions, new knowledge, experiences and the community of learners who meet people around the world with similar interests” (Saadatdoost, 2014, abstract). They go on to discussion how this community of practice, as outlined in the clip, has largely been left undiscussed in reference to the study of MOOCs. Interestingly, this clip fails to provide MOOCs as exemplification of where community of practice could be revealed.


Saadatdoost, Robab; Sim, Alex Tze Hiang; Mittal, Nitish; Jafarkarimi, Hosein; and Hee, Jee Mei, “A NETNOGRAPHY STUDY OF MOOC COMMUNITY” (2014). PACIS 2014 Proceedings. 116. http://aisel.aisnet.org/pacis2014/116




Newton Lee in The Transhumanism Handbook (2019) defines transhumanism as ‘using science and technology to enhance or alter our body chemistry in order to stay healthy, and be in more control of our lives’. This brought to mind the novel The Suicide Club https://t.co/fmrRZVN58P

Me, myself and I

Before we get properly started on the business of lifestreaming, I thought I would briefly introduce myself.

My name is Brian Kerr and I am a teacher of history and geography at the leading British international School in Qatar, where I have been living since 2010.  I have the added responsibly of being Head of Digital Learning for our Primary and Secondary campuses, so this is what motivates me to learn more about digital education.

I have been enrolled on the Digital Education programme with Edinburgh University since September 2018, and have completed the IDEL course and Digital Education in a Global Context.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Educational and Digital Culture has in store for the weeks and months ahead.