Exploring Instructor Contributions to Discussions in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Goshtasbpour, Fereshte (2019). Exploring Instructor Contributions to Discussions in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). PhD thesis University of Leeds.

URL: https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/26064/


OOCs as a new form of online education have attracted the attention of researchers; however, little research has examined MOOC instructors’ practices particularly in delivering the courses. Therefore, this study set out to explore what instructors do in MOOC discussion areas and how learners react to them. Drawing on an extended mixed design, this research investigated the level (frequency) and type of instructors’ contributions to discussion areas, and the ways and extent to which learners engage with them. First, the content of 818 learner-instructor conversations of three FutureLearn MOOCs were analysed based on the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. Instructors’ contributions were then studied for learners’ explicit (responding) and implicit (liking) engagement. In addition, the changes to instructors’ contributions and learners’ engagement over the duration of courses were examined to explore the impact of time on instructors’ and learners’ discussion activities. Finally, in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with instructors to understand the role of their contributions in learning. The findings revealed that social postings are the clear majority of instructor contributions, whilst postings related to teaching and cognitive presences constitute a smaller proportion. This indicates that instructors do not focus on all contribution types equally and that there is an imbalance between the social and content-related support that learners receive. More specifically, the results showed that instructors’ teaching contributions focus on facilitating the learning discourse and less on providing direct instruction. This suggests that instructors take a facilitative rather than a directive or leading role in FutureLearn MOOCs. The predominance of instructors’ social contributions, on the other hand, signifies the social emphasis of instructors’ discussion activities. Furthermore, the analysis showed that learners engaged with 42% of instructors’ contributions by responding to or liking them or a combination of both. Most learner engagement was evident when instructors’ contributions were focused on teaching presence. The most engaging combination appeared to be a high level of direct instruction and facilitating discourse in a contribution and the lowest level of affective responses. Considering the level of instructors’ contributions, more than half of contributions occurred at the beginning of MOOCs, and this proportion had more than halved by the middle and reached its lowest level at the end of MOOCs. Despite the decrease in all contribution types over time, the relative importance of each type changed. This study also showed that although the Community of Inquiry framework required re-operationalisation and re-conceptualisation of some indicators and the introduction of three new ones to describe the dynamics of learner-instructor interactions in MOOCs, it provided a powerful lens to explore MOOC instructor discussion activities. While this study has resulted in an enhanced understanding of instructors’ contributions to the MOOC discussions, and offered new insights into learners’ engagement with instructors, it revisited the CoI framework in a MOOC context. Thus, the significance of this study also lies in proposing a revised model that can inform future research into learning and teaching in MOOCs or other open, scaled and informal educational contexts.

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