Education and Digital Cultures

A micro-ethnography

Tasked with a micro-ethnography

“Your primary concern is to conduct your micro-ethnography, with a focus on notions of community culture. You do not necessarily have to participate formally in the activities prescribed within your chosen MOOC, and you are certainly not expected to complete it. However, you will have most of the four weeks in block 2 to try and get a sense of what it is like to be a ‘MOOC learner’ and how a sense of ‘community’ in your chosen course might be understood.”

Pick a course, any course…

I picked a course:

Designing E-Learning for Health

A 5-week course taking participants through the creation of Reusable Learning Object, with specific reference to the Health sector. This open, and free course is delivered via the Future Learn platform by Nottingham University.

Week 1 - Hello, is there anybody in there?

Comment Record - Week 1

In this section I focus on the asynchronous chat via the FutureLearn “comments” section which accompanied almost every “block” of learning in each week.

The MOOC gives the impression of a lively group of participants.

*original post designation given to the each post at the “top” level of the discussion forum, i.e. where a comment was made that was NOT a reply to another comment. The Comments section had only top and secondary levels of comment. It was not a multi-threaded discussion.

Here’s the above data in graph format

X-axis: Week 1 Sub-section. Y-axis: Number of Comments

Here’s the graph of unanswered OPs from the first week:

Week 1 - Initial impressions

At time of publication (5th March) there were 223 comments on one sub-section alone. There was certain optimism in tone. Certainly the posts were largely positive and good natured. It was encouraging to see a lively discussion board to start with. Some people also announced their “late” starting on the course.

Week 2 - Like to get to know you well

Participant location map

Participants were invited to pin their location on a map of the world. UK and parts of Europe were particularly well represented in this exercise.

Comment Record - Week 2

The results of counting comments from Week 2 could be interpreted as a drop off in participation. Week 2 included a practical exercise: to submit a brief proposal for the course that you wish to take through the subsequent stages of the course. The course organisers designed peer feedback in to this stage.

2.10, 2.11, 2.12 = n/a. The activity during those sections did not require nor include comments

X-axis: sub-section of week 3

Y-axis: number of comments

Week 2 Participation: number of comments

x-axis: sub-section of week 2.

y-axis: percentage of total comments

Week 3 - Storyboarding, like surfboarding only, travelling on a crest of an idea

I captured these statistics at the of the third week, on a Sunday afternoon. There were a number of participants who were operating on catch-up basis. Nevertheless, I think an expectation of decreasing involvement is a fair one over the five weeks based on this week’s activity.

The total comments for each sub-section of week 3 suggests that people are still working through the content. This is understandable as the storyboarding exercise set in this week could take up a lot of time.

On the positive side, the numbers of unanswered posts was not as we had seen in other weeks. Perhaps this suggests that early signs of a smaller but tight-knit community is forming?

Analysis, Thoughts, Critique

The course I chose for my micro-ethnography is aimed at medical professionals with an interest in e-learning. The cohort also included e-learning professionals. The course’s “educators” (in FutureLearn parlance) were very encouraging to anyone who did not wish to choose a medical subject or practice area for their “project” through the course.

Given the nature of the target audience, the community was very polite and without conflict (Though how much behind-the-scenes moderating went on I do not know). There was also evidence of collaboration springing up through the “storyboarding” exercise in week three that suggested ongoing collaboration would continue between groups.

There was certainly attempts at establishing community within the group. Weekly summary videos referenced individual or group contributions. This gave a strong sense of involvement by the teaching staff on the course. There was a peer-assessed activity in week 2 which brought about useful feedback. One participant pointed out in the comment that due to the comments received, a change in direction in their project had ensued. I personally found the feedback to be useful in honing my own concept.

Comments in the course were often one-way. They were written to answer questions posed in the course video or text for that week. There were some small debates, and the number of unanswered posts shows that some sections of the course appeared to encourage. There were few lengthy exchanges.

Had this been more than just a “micro” study, I could see that more of the story would have been told if I’d looked at Original Posts that gained 2 or more. Indeed, it would also have been interesting to analyse the individual commentators to see if their actions had bearing on activity on the comments section of the course. This would have been equally useful for staff and student.

But for there to be community, there must be communication. It was evident that the drop off from weeks one to three had some positive influence on the number of unanswered posts, but equally, the total count of posts each week dropped.

If this trend continues, then I would expect there a chance to be a small, but closely meshed community at the end of it. I would not discount professional contacts being exchanged either, given the medical area many participants were from.