Impact of Different Social Media on cMOOCs

By Jim Shimabukuro

A couple days ago, I received an email from Bert Kimura about the latest issue of International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, Feb. 2018 (19:1). He knows that I’d find the articles on MOOCs interesting. In this post, I’ll be focusing on the first, by Zhijun Wang, Terry Anderson, and Li Chen, “How Learners Participate in Connectivist Learning: An Analysis of the Interaction Traces From a cMOOC.”

This article is noteworthy for a number of reasons, not least of which is the publication medium, IRRODL. It’s online and open access. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this article is its data source: a 2011 course, Change 11 MOOC. Permission was granted by one of the facilitators, George Siemens. According to the authors, Wang et al., “When participants registered into the Change 11 MOOC, they signed an agreement that permitted the use of their data for research purposes…. All of data can be accessed without passwords in the internet.” Siemens and colleagues were modeling a precedent that facilitates research in online learning.

Wang et al. begin with a definition of cMOOC. This is a critical distinction because, theoretically, xMOOCs aren’t MOOCs. MOOC, as originally conceptualized by Siemens and Stephen Downes, is connectivist, i.e., “learning is a connection-building and network-forming process” (Wang et al.). Downes created the cMOOC-xMOOC dichotomy to highlight the cMOOC emphasis on connectivism, which places the bulk of responsibility for learning in the hands of the learners.  

I’m not convinced that Downes’s cMOOC and xMOOC designations are necessary. It may be redundant. The idea of connectivism is assumed in the first “O” in MOOC — open. “Open” implies a system in which input (components, protocols, energy) is a function of the environment. When applied to a course, this system is a process (curriculum, instruction, resources) that’s determined, in large part, by the learning environment. In the case of MOOCs, environment includes participants as primary sources of input. This process is either open or closed. From this perspective, xMOOCs are not MOOCs. They’re simply online courses with some or many MOOC features.

The authors, Wang et al., conclude that “the deepest interaction happened in the blog space followed by the Facebook group and Twitter.” I’m not sure if anyone’s surprised by this outcome, given that, on the basis of structure alone, blogs are designed for deeper and broader discussions and Twitter isn’t. Facebook falls somewhere in between but leans more toward Twitter.1

The authors also admit “there’s no doubt that other interactions occurred in other closed groups, private communication, or were not recorded on the internet.” This, too, is a given. I think we can assume that a lot of interactions occurred outside the official channels. But that’s the nature of open networked learning. A lot of deep conversations probably occur via private email, other social networks, and more traditional media such as F2F chats, texting, and voice calls.

I found the breakdown of participant types awkward: unconnected floaters, connected lurker, connected participant, and active contributor. I’m not sure if “connected” in terms of accessing course information rather than interaction is meaningful. Furthermore, distinguishing between various degrees of activeness is a lot tougher than it sounds. (See the Guanawardena et al. breakdown below.) If I’m reading the results correctly, this study finds that 20% were interactive and 80% weren’t. Based on personal experience, I’d say this is about right.

I found the Guanawardena et al.2 breakdown of interaction levels potentially useful:

  • sharing/comparing of information
  • discovery and exploration of dissonance or inconsistency among ideas, concepts or statements
  • negotiation of meaning/co-construction of knowledge
  • testing and modification of proposed synthesis or co-construction
  • agreement statement application of newly constructed meaning

However, in actual practice, this rubric would be difficult to apply. To be useful, it has to be simpler, clearer, easier to differentiate.

This study is useful in the sense that it addresses an important question: What are the most effective media for meaningful interaction in a MOOC or, for that matter, any online course? Perhaps a critical omission in this study is course forums or discussion boards. If the omission is based on the rationale that forums aren’t social media, then maybe it’s time to reconsider this distinction. I think we can assume that when colleges begin to develop their own cMOOCs, they will rely, in part, on forums built into their LMS.

1 The authors admit as much: “Perhaps because the blog can express more ideas in one post than Twitter, so the number of average interactions arising from one blog post is more than those from a single Twitter post. The Facebook group established by a participant attracted a much smaller learner group, so the interaction in it was also less than other technologies.”
2Analysis of a Global Online Debate and the Development of an Interaction Analysis Model for Examining Social Construction of Knowledge in Computer Conferencing (Journal of Educational Computing Research, 1997).

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