Clustering, Collaboration and Community: Sociality at Work in a cMOOC

Lewis, Timothy; Comas-Quinn, Anna and Hauck, Mirjam (2015). Clustering, Collaboration and Community: Sociality at Work in a cMOOC. In: Dixon, Edward and Thomas, Michael eds. Researching Language Learner Interactions Online: From Social Media to MOOCs. CALICO Monograph Series, 13. Texas, USA: Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO), pp. 45–61.


This chapter addresses a key question in relation to the popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other forms of collaborative online learning: why it is that learners collaborate with one another at all rather than simply identifying and pursuing their own individual goals? To answer this question, the chapter draws extensively on sociality theory, which predicates that human beings are actually selected for their capacity to feel empathy, show altruism, exercise reciprocity and fairness, as well as for their aptitude for cooperating with others. The evidence to suggest that these traits are to be found in today’s online learners is offered in the form of a case study drawn from an 8-week MOOC in open translation practices (the OT12 MOOC) organized by members of the Department of Languages at The Open University, UK, from October to December 2012. Taking as its starting point Cormier’s (2010) framework of the five steps to success in a MOOC (orient, declare, network, cluster, focus), we focus on the transition between the stages of networking and clustering. Our study is based on a content analysis of forum postings by participants in the OT12 MOOC.
We begin by detailing the key features of MOOCs, as identified by Cormier (2010), Lane (2012) and others, considering in particular Cormier’s account of the network-based connectivist MOOC. Next comes a description of the OT12 MOOC, which falls into this category. This is followed by a brief outline of sociality theory. Finally we present our methodology and data drawn from the OT12 which illustrates the significant role played by human sociality in the formation of online communities, whether their raison d’être is volunteer translation or collaborative learning.

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