Metaliteracy Mooc

pros and cons of learning in an xmooc-what the students say

The discussion forums

How useful are they?

This analysis is based on the 'weekly discussions' forum board at the end of the fourth week. There are three other discussion forums: general discussion; meet your classmates and assignments. To date there are a total of 196 threads on the weekly discussions forum.


My first observation is that at the start of the course there was a flurry of activity from several participants on the forum. Some of these are no longer active within the forums; others are. Some of these early posters appear to have disappeared from the course; I wonder if they were expecting a more connectivist experience and have lost interest in the forums / course.


Secondly, there is some evidence of students sharing resources with others. There are occasional links to external sources and an infographic.


Interestingly, I have noticed that emoticons are not displayed on the forums. When I conduct a search for ':)' it returns 735 results but none of them show the emoticon; this makes me assume that they have been stripped out by the Coursera platform. Indeed there is evidence from a Coursera Capstone Project that this may be happening, "remove “bad characters” that might interfere with analysis (e.g. emoticons)" (Farmer, 2014). But does this have the unintentional consequence of removing the social 'feel' of the forums, and making them more formal than intended? Does it hinder the development of a "personally enriching social world" as described by Kozinets (2010, p.23)?


Another element missing from this forum is the 'signature' that is commonly seen in online forums. Kozinets (ibid), implies that these are used as a mark of status and dominance and are used to build relationships, manage self-presentation and create intimacy. Does this lack of intimacy and relationship contribute to the absence of social networking? A search for common social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook elicits no personal contact information or invitations to extend conversations / relationships outside of the course.


The nature of the staff interventions seem dependent on who is monitoring the threads (there are a total of 8 staff involved in the mooc). (One staff mentions they will be replying to threads for the next three weeks, so I assume they are working together on a rota basis.) Some of the staff reply in a very informational manner, resolving queries and clarifying information; other staff reply in a more directive manner by asking questions to elicit further discussion. The staff very rarely start threads - only once to post general assignment information and once to introduce a philosophical debate.


Finally, each weekly topic includes an activity directing the students toward the weekly discussion forum, which indicates that the course designers do acknowledge the importance of having a communication space where the students can explore their knowledge with others.


In my opinion, this course "foregrounds information and resources as the core of the learning process" (Stewart, 2013). However, the relatively small scale of it is allowing the staff to join in discussions with the students. The students can be confident that the staff are monitoring every conversation that happens; for example, I know that if I post a query or controversial argument, that it will, without a doubt, be replied to by a staff member. This is important as it changes the feeling of being within a 'massive' experience to one that is more personal, although professional in tone.

References

Farmer, D., 2014. Coursera Capstone Project: Project Milestone Report. Available at: http://rstudio-pubs-static.s3.amazonaws.com/40810_559c7abbe5fd40038b20b0f2a8de6c5b.html [Accessed March 1, 2015].


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 ? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), pp.228–238.