On December 5th, Coursera sent an email inviting individuals to participate in a survey intended to investigate whether participation on Coursera “has had any career, educational, or social impact in [their] life.” The email also stated: “Your survey response will be used as part of a research study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, and Coursera, examining the impact of MOOCs.”
Research studies examining the impact of MOOCs outside of individual courses and studies that use methods other than clickstream data, are worthwhile and needed. I applaud Coursera and its partners for the effort to address this research gap.
However, the lack of information pertaining to the research is concerning.
By clicking on the email invitation, potential participants land on a page that describes the research study as follows:
Both the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington have offices in place to support researchers in conducting research in ways that protect human participants (the UPenn IRB is here and the U of Washington site here). Importantly, these offices are not just regulatory: they provide help and support. The UPenn site for example states that the mission of the IRB includes providing “professional guidance and support to the research community.”
At the very minimum, potential participants should be informed about the study and should provide their agreement to participate in the study. This process is called informed consent. The University of Washington IRB website describes it as follows:
Researchers are required to obtain the informed consent of all participants in human subjects research prior to enrolling those individuals in a study. The individual’s consent must be voluntary and based upon adequate knowledge of the purpose, risks, and potential benefits of a research study. All potential participants should also be informed of their right to abstain from participation or to withdraw consent to participate at any time without reprisal. After ensuring that a person has understood the information, the researcher should then obtain the person’s consent, preferably in writing. [more details here]
This information should be written in language that a layperson can understand and should be included in the screenshot above. In online surveys, consent is usually gained by asking participants to click on a button that indicates that the individual agrees to participate in the study.
This is all missing from the Coursera survey.
Granted, Coursera is a business entity, and it is not bound by the same requirements imposed upon researchers to conduct a survey. Businesses conduct surveys and market research all the time, and none of this applies. But this isn’t just market research. The email and survey introduction have a clear statement of intent: The data will be used for research. Even if Coursera is unaware of the existence of ethical guidelines, Facebook’s emotion contagion study and other news stories on ethics (e.g., Harvard’s hidden cameras efforts) should have provided a moment to pause and ask: Are we doing all we can to ensure that we are treating each other, and our research participants especially, in an ethical and caring way?
Update #1: This special issue will include an “experiences from the trenches” section for individual learners to tell their own stories about their experiences with MOOCs. You can find the requirements for those papers here.
What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?
Special Issue – Call for papers
Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Journal published by Taylor & Francis
While during 2011-2012 the mass media were largely exuberant about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), claiming that these courses will revolutionize and democratize access to education, in 2013-2014 anti-MOOC sentiment rose amidst concerns pertaining to completion rates, sustainable business models, and pedagogical effectiveness. Heated debates on the status quo and future of higher education have ensued since then, and even though there is “no shortage of prophecies about [MOOC’s] potential impact” (Breslow et al., 2013, pp. 23), the academic community has yet to develop an in-depth understanding of learner experiences in MOOCs. The aim of the special issue is to add to our understanding of learner experiences in MOOCs by providing answers to the question: What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?
Learner experiences arise from the ways learners interact with and respond to content, activities, instructional methods, instructors, and the context within which learning and instruction happen (Parrish, 2005). At a time when researchers and online learning providers are embracing the use of learning analytics and big data to examine learner behaviors, activities, and actions, very few researchers have sought to gain a deep, qualitative, and multidimensional understanding of learner experiences with open forms of learning. A nuanced appreciation of how users experience open learning, including the successes and obstacles they face, will assist learning designers, researchers, and providers in making greater sense of the open course phenomenon as well as enable them to improve open online learning.
This CFP arises has its foundations on a 2013 call in which Veletsianos argued that “we only have small pieces of an incomplete mosaic of students’ learning experiences with open online learning” (Veletsianos, 2013). While there’s been an expansive amount of research on MOOCs, the existing literature predominantly focuses on learner behaviors and practices, while investigations of learners’ lived experiences are largely absent (Adams et al., 2014). The availability of large-scale data sets also appears to have shaped the research questions that are being asked about MOOCs, and, while significant insights are developed via that research route, the field will benefit tremendously by gaining a better understanding and appreciation of learners’ experiences.
To address these issues and to support the development of the field, we invite authors to submit manuscripts investigating the learner experience in massive open online courses. Manuscripts can be of three types:
- Empirical. Such manuscripts should follow rigor guidelines appropriate for the research methods used.
- Systematic reviews of the literature and literature meta-syntheses.
- Theoretical manuscripts, contributing to the development of theory pertaining to learner experiences in open courses.
We are interested in hosting a forum for leading edge contributions to the nascent field that help us make sense of learner experiences, and allow practitioners and researchers to benefit from these contributions. Towards this aim, recommended topics of interest for this special issue include, but are not limited to, the following research questions:
- What is it like to learn in massive open online courses?
- What are learners’ experiences in open courses?
- Why are learners participating in open courses in the ways that they do?
- What are learner-learner and learner-instructor interactions like?
- How do learners respond to various instructional design decisions and instructor roles?
- How do learners perceive their relationships with each other, content, instructors, institutions, and MOOC providers?
Interested authors should submit 500-word abstracts and 200-word bios by December 19 at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions should include short descriptions of the following:
- Identified gap/problem addressed
- Methods or modes of inquiry
- Data sources
- (in-progress or final) results
Invitations to submit full papers will be send on or before January 9, 2014. Manuscripts should be formatted using APA style and should be 6,000 words, including references. The process to be followed thereafter is as follows:
- March 1, 2015: Full-length papers due via email at email@example.com
- May 1, 2015: Notification of acceptance/rejections
- June 30, 2015: Final papers with revisions due
- 2015: Special issue is published
Special Issue Editors
Dr. George Veletsianos
Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology
Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC, Canada.
Dr. Vrasidas Charalambos
Executive Director, CARDET (www.cardet.org)
Associate Professor of Learning Innovations & Associate Dean for e-learning, University of Nicosia, Cyprus.
Adams, C., Yin, Y., Vargas Madriz, L.F., & Mullen, S. (2014). A phenomenology of learning large: The tutorial sphere of xMOOC video lectures. Distance Education, 35, 202-216.
Breslow, L., Pritchard, D. E., DeBoer, J., Stump, G. S., Ho, A. D., & Seaton, D. T. (2013). Studying learning in the worldwide classroom: Research into edX’s first MOOC. Research & Practice in Assessment, 8, 13-25.
Parrish, P. (2005). Embracing the aesthetics of instructional design. Educational Technology, 45(2), 16-25.
Veletsianos, G. (2013). Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning. Madison, WI: Hybrid Pedagogy Publications. Retrieved from http://learnerexperiences.hybridpedagogy.com.
I am writing a book focused on experiences and practices surrounding scholars’ online participation, and I don’t think I’ve blogged about it yet, though I’ve mentioned it multiple times. Let’s call this “the inaugural blog post concerning the Networked Scholars book.” The book will be published by Routledge. It’s due in mid-March.
Diagram of a social network. Image in the public domain.
I plan on blogging about the book as I am writing it. I want to share this work (and I have negotiated with the publisher to post 50% of the final product here), and I want to blog about it in order to think out loud about the book and to help improve it. Networked Scholars (the book, not the MOOC) summarizes the existing research on the use of social media and online networks by academics. In the book, I examine scholars’ practices and experiences with social media and online social networks. While the book synthesizes all existing research, the investigation is largely qualitative and ethnographic.
The book is currently divided in 8 chapters. Each chapter describes online social networks from a different angle:
Chapter 1: Introduction. Introduces the reader to networked participatory scholarship (social media, online networks, openness, networked practice). Introduces significant concepts appearing throughout the book: (a) deterministic perspective (social media shape scholarship), (b) social shaping perspective (technologies are shaped by social, cultural, economic, and political factors, and academics have the agency to accept or reject any particular technology or to find alternative uses for it that will better serve their needs), (c) context collapse, (d) “social media as instrument to achieve valued scholarly outcomes” narrative (e.g., more citations), and (e) “social media as gathering places” narrative (e.g., finding community).
Chapter 2: Networks of knowledge creation and dissemination. In this chapter, I describe how scholars are using online networks to engage in knowledge creation and dissemination. I describe how academics use particular technologies and practices to do and share research and present examples of academics doing research online, reaching new understandings, and supporting communities in creating knowledge. Case studies illuminate this chapter.
Chapter 3: Networks of tension and conflict. The main argument in this chapter is that even though the hope for positive outcomes has led many academics and educational institutions to advocate the adoption of social media, online social networks, and various open practices, scholars’ online participation appears to be rife with tensions, dilemmas, and conundrums. I describe a number of challenges that academics face when they online, and discuss how these shape participation.
Chapter 4: Networks of care and vulnerability. As contemporary narratives pertaining to impact, productivity, automation, efficiency, algorithms, follower counts, citation counts, impact factors, branding, and so on infuse academic lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing technologies merely as instruments that are used toward the achievement of particular professional outcomes. In this chapter, I discuss how social media & online networks function as places where (some) academics make themselves vulnerable and where they express and experience care.
Chapter 6: Fragmented Networks. In this chapter, I will explain that scholars’ identity online potentially consists of a constellation of identity fragments. What scholars reveal online about themselves is mediated by a variety of issues including professional concerns, collapsed contexts, imagined and invisible audiences, and identity work. This chapter will argue that what we see happening in social networks and media represents fragments of life.
Chapter 7: Transparent Networks. Here, I expand on openness and transparency and discuss how transparency relates to teaching, research, and scholarship. I discuss transparency in teaching and student-instructor interaction (e.g., instructor and teacher participation in open courses), transparency in the publishing process (e.g., The Paper Rejection Repository) and transparency in other areas of scholarship and participation (e.g., The Adjunct Project).
Chapter 8: Future Directions. Synthesis and suggestions for future research.
I started responding to Jeffrey on Twitter, and realized that 140 characters ensured that my response would be cryptic at best. So, in relatively longer form:
- An early decision decision taken was that #scholar14 was going to be modular. There are 4 weeks in the course. Each week is a standalone module. A participant can do week 1 to explore some of the main ideas around scholarly practices on the Web. Week 2 focuses on the challenges and tensions that might arise when doing so. Week 3 is somewhat of a case study looking at issues of community, caring, and vulnerability when academics are online. Week 4 is an activity that can be applied to any of the weeks (i.e. one can do the activity for week 1 if they only completed week 1 or for all weeks if they followed along for all weeks). I made this design decision for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones was to help people jump into a week without feeling that they needed to go through past weeks. I am assuming a certain level of familiarity with the material here, but i tried to limit the extent of prerequisite knowledge required to participate in each week.
- Mini activities. Al lot of the activities developed are small and relatively independent. One can choose to do multiple throughout the week or just 1. For instance, week 2 includes 5 discussion threads on relevant topics. I could just pick 1 of those, or 3 if I have the time. Here’s an example of a discussion thread/activity: “Giant publisher (Elsevier) sends takedown notices to academic social networking site (Academia.edu): Publisher demands that social networking site remove research papers from its servers. Here’s a notice sent to an academic. Elsevier wrote an note explaining their perspective. Share your thoughts/reflections on the case with the rest of us on the discussion thread dedicated to each case. Feel free to join discussion threads, ask questions, and help your colleagues gain a greater understanding of the topic.”
- Live events. These serve as opportunities for gaining a more intimate overview of the ideas in the course, based on conversations with guest experts. They are recorded and archived.
- Multiple pathways. The #dalmooc folks are doing a dual-layer MOOC on a much larger and experimental scale, and are learning quite a lot from it. In my case, content, updates, and interactions pertaining to#scholar14 exist outside of the platform as well, and I think that provides opportunities to join the space that makes the most sense to an individual. I believe that we need more (and better) scaffolds to support this. For instance, Jeffrey is reaching out on Twitter, and he might be doing so because that’s proven to be a supportive place in the past vis-a-vis a new environment created just for the purpose of a course, like the canvas platform for example. Others connected their blog to a space developed to aggregate content… multiple options are available, in the hopes that these provide flexibility and options.
What do you think?
- What are some other ways that individuals could join an open course when time permits?
- How can we design more flexibility into a course without losing its essence?