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Running Head: MOTIVATION IN MOOCS RESEARCH STRATEGIES

Planning Research Strategies for Learner Motivation in MOOCs


Apostolos Koutropoulos
Athabasca University

Professor: Dr. George Siemens


EDDE 802 // Assignment 4
April 18, 2015

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS2

Planning Research Strategies for Learner Motivation in MOOCs


Beginning in 2012 when Coursera leaders proclaimed that a new innovation would
democratize education (Johnson, 2012), coverage of stories on the subject of Massive Open
Online Courses (MOOCs) have been more prominent in high profile academic news sites, such
as the Chronicle of Higher Education, Educause, and Inside Higher Education. Coverage in
media outlets has focused on the trend of having thousands of students sign-up for a MOOC, but
only a small fraction of them completing the course. This trend of high enrollment offset by
fractional completion has continued to define MOOC discussions. The dropout issue is framed
from a deficit model, in other words how many people we lost in the course.
However a more appropriate way of framing MOOC completion rates is focusing on how
many people completed the course. As McNamara (2015) said at the 2015 Learning Analytics
and Knowledge conference, 719 participants who complete an open online course is greater than
zero participants completing the course if the course did not exist. The researcher of this
proposal asserts that at the center of MOOC completion exist the underlying student motivations
for signing up and participating in the MOOC. Some work has been done to examine student
intent in taking MOOCs (Reich, 2014), and this plays a part in the overall field of academic
student motivation, but there are other elements that factor into student motivation. Thus, the
research questions for this research project are:

What motivates learners in connectivist MOOCs?


How do people discover cMOOCs?
Why do learners sign-up for cMOOCs?
Why do learners complete cMOOCs?
o How is completion defined?
o Why do learners leave a MOOC before it is over
o Why do learners persist with a MOOC once it is complete?
What literacies are required as scaffolds to keep learners motivated?

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The conceptual framework for this research proposal consists of the following elements:
From an ontological perspective the term that best describes the researchers position is subtle
realism. Hammersley coined subtle realism when he wrote that there is a reality independent of
our own knowledge of it, yet we can only know reality from our own personal perspective in it
(as cited in Angen, 2000). When examining motivation in learning, and specifically motivation
in cMOOCs, the researcher may not be able to arrive at generalizations that describe all learners.
To this end, the epistemological stance that best describes a way of approaching this topic is a
pluralist view which combines various epistemological and theoretical positionings (KoroLjungberg, Yendol-Hoppey, Smith, and Hayes, 2009). With this research framework the
researcher is able design and conduct research which aims to obtain what Geertz describes as
thick descriptions of how learners act in cMOOCs (as cited in Cohen, Manion, and Morrison,
2011). Through this descriptive approach the researcher has a better vantage point in discovering
what motivates learners in cMOOCs.
Research Methods
The two main research methods to explore learner motivation in cMOOCs are
ethnography, and grounded theory. This section discusses details pertaining to each method,
main elements of the method, practical, ethical, and philosophical implications of the chosen
method.
Ethnography
Ethnography is the portrayal and explanation of social groups and situation in their reallife contexts (Cohen et al, 2011). A cMOOC can be described as an educational microcosm.
From the researchers own experiences with cMOOCs, connectivist MOOCs tend to attract a
certain type of learner. These learners typically have a college degree, and substantial amount of

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participants have graduate degrees as well. While academia is prominently represented amongst
the ranks of cMOOC participants, cMOOCs also attract working professionals, as was
discovered by de Waard et al (2011). Because cMOOCs, and the learners they attract, are studied
as a closed group ethnographic approaches are chosen because they are best suited to studying
such closed social groups. While the specific learner populations do vary from cMOOC to
cMOOC, the course format does potentially allow for a greater sense of community, it enables
the forming of a network of learners. This can be characterized as a closed group for the duration
of the course, despite the open nature of the course.
Ethnographic research can produce both emic and etic perspectives of the community that
is being studied. While traditional ethnography seeks to explain happenings thought the eyes of
the members of the community, an emic perspective, the etic perspective completes the picture of
what is happening by providing additional context that may not be seen from the perspective of
the researcher. Thus, through ethnographic research thick descriptions emerge based not only
through the exploration of phenomena and behaviors from the eyes of the participants of the
cMOOC, but also from the external interpretations of the researcher.
Koro-Ljungberg et al (2009) place ethnography into the interpretivist theoretical
perspective, however in this research proposal ethnography is approached from a pluralist
perspective. The reason for this is that ethnography is viewed through the same lens as
LeCompte and Preissle view it: they indicate that the ethnographer is a methodological omnivore
(as cited in Cohen et al, 2011), and therefore it can encompass a hybrid perspective. This hybrid
perspective is better at exploring qualitative research where realities are multiple, constructed,
and holistic (Cohen et al, 2011, p. 219).

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Meaning arises out of social situations and is handled through interpretive processes
(Cohen et al, 2011). Simply asking learners what motivates them in cMOOC will not necessarily
uncover their true motivations as learners. A researcher needs to interpret those findings through
a variety of sources. This is where the methodological omnivorousness is an asset.
LeCompte and Preissle (as cited in Cohen et al, 2011) suggest that ethnographic
approaches are concerned more with description rather than prediction, induction rather than
deduction, generation of theory rather than verification of theory, construction rather than
enumeration, and subjectivities rather than objective knowledge (p. 221). Because the researcher
would not be able to obtain generalizations about what motivates learners in cMOOCs by
studying one or two cMOOCs, the ethnographic approach to studying learner motivation is
appropriate. Through the ethnographic study of three cMOOC, thick descriptions can help
researchers generate theory, which can then be tested in subsequent research.
Ethnographic research is conducted in a naturalistic setting. To study learner motivation
in cMOOCs the researcher may either create his own cMOOC for the purposes of examining
learner motivation, or he may work with others, who are already offering a cMOOC, and focus
specifically on the data collection and analysis for the research. For both practical and ethical
reasons the researcher will work with other individuals who are designing and convening
cMOOCs in order to enter a community of learners and observe them. This will be done for three
reasons: First, to avoid the possibility of creating a contrived setting, which by definition will
not be naturalistic. Second, to avoid any power differential issues that might arise from being
both a researcher and a course convener. And third, in order to focus more on observing the
community and collecting and analyzing data, and focusing less with the logistics of running an
open online course.

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The main hurdles for the researcher in this approach are two: First will be finding a
cMOOC that will run during the time-frame that the researcher has set aside for the study.
cMOOCs can be seen as artisanal course offerings and their existence is known by word of
mouth among people who have taken cMOOCs previously. The second hurdle will be to find a
community whose conveners are welcoming of a researcher looking to examine their cMOOC
participants, and willing build into their course an IRB/REB notice, as well as to share some
administrative data or help with the dissemination of calls for participants to the research study,
especially for those who have not been active in the MOOC.
One question that will need addressing is the role of the researcher. Will the researcher
be the digital equivalent of the person in the back of the classroom observing what is happening
in the cMOOC? Or will the researcher be a participant-researcher, where not only does the
researcher collect data from the cMOOC occurrences, but he also participates as a member of
that educational microcosm. While the odds of going native may be low, due to the nature of
the cMOOC which does not explicitly privilege one node in the network over others, there may
be an issue where the researchers opinions and world views influence other participants. Thus,
instead of exploring what motivates learners in cMOOCs, the researcher may be seeding his own
views amongst other participants. For this reason, in the ethnographic approach the researcher
will be a silent observer in the day-to-day interactions in the cMOOC.
Grounded Theory
Another appropriate research method to use to explore the question of learner motivation
in cMOOCs is grounded theory. Grounded theory, according to Strauss and Corbin (as cited in
Cohen et al, 2011) is a methodology for developing theory that is grounded in data
systematically gathered and analyzed. In grounded theory theories emerge from the data rather

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than before examining the data (Cohen et al, 2011). While it is possible to propose a hypothesis
on what motivates learners in cMOOCs, from the researchers previous experience in cMOOCs,
and then attempt to prove this hypothesis by analyzing data gathered from a new cMOOC
setting, this approach will potentially provide only a narrow view of what motivates learners in
cMOOCs. There are different varieties of grounded theory (Evans, 2013). The variety used in
this research is the classic grounded theory that was pioneered by Glaser and Strauss (1967).
Moghaddam writes that grounded theory is a set of relationships amongst data and
categories that proposes a plausible and reasonable explanation of the phenomenon that is
studied (as cited in Cohen et al, 2011). Interconnectedness is a key element in grounded theory in
that, as Glaser comments, the world doesnt occur in a vacuum (as cited in Cohen et al, 2011, p.
598), and because of this the researcher needs to take into account the interconnectedness of
actions. By examining this interconnectedness the researcher may uncover thicker, more
holistic, views of the phenomenon being researched. Grounded theory approaches data analysis
in a systematic and iterative way (Cohen et al, 2011). In this regard grounded theory also
contains hermeneutic elements, in that, as Koro-Ljungbert et al (2009) write, the aim of a
hermeneutic approach is to understand holistically and cyclically the participants experiences.
By understanding these experiences we might derive a theory for learner motivation in cMOOCs.
From a philosophical point of view grounded theory, like ethnography, does allow for a
methodological omnivorous researcher. Through a grounded theory approach the researcher can
obtain a thick description of what is occurring in a learning community by collecting data,
analyzing data, and iterating through this data collection and analysis process. This can be done
all throughout the duration of the cMOOC. These thick descriptions will allow for the generation

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of theory that is grounded in the analysis of data from an actual cMOOC rather than a hypothesis
generated from potentially anecdotal evidence, such as the researchers prior experience.
From an ethical perspective, just like ethnography, in grounded theory the researcher will
need to seek informed consent for at least part of the research. On the one hand the researcher
can practice deception, which does include as part of its definition not disclosing that people are
being observed or researched (Cohen et al, 2011). While it is allowed for the researcher to be a
participant researcher and actively participate in the cMOOC and collect any openly and freely
available data generated by learners, there is a more pragmatic reason to not practice deception in
this instance. By informing cMOOC participants that there will be a researcher as part of the
cMOOC, participants may be more forthcoming when it comes to survey participation. By being
open, and not deceptive, the researcher also stays clear of potentially ethically gray areas and the
increased scrutiny of Ethics Review Boards.
From a practical perspective, due to the iterative nature of the grounded theory, and the
examination of the interconnectedness of elements in the cMOOC and its participants, it may be
of interest to the researcher to enlist the aid of an assistant to be part of the project. This would
allow for collection of data that the researcher may be blind to due to any underlying biases, and
the assistant may be able to aid with validation during that data analysis phase.
Data Collection
Hammersley and Atkinson write that data collection approaches in naturalistic inquiry
are participant observation, interviews, conversations, document collections, field notes,
accounts, notes, and memos (as cited in Cohen et al, 2011). With these two research
methodologies, ethnography and grounded theory, there will be some aspects of data collection
that will be in common, and some which will be unique to each.

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Ethnography
In an ethnographic approach to researching learner motivation in cMOOCs the researcher
will be using observations of the community, surveys, interviews, documents and artefacts, and
field notes as part of his data collection strategy. One of the first decisions that the researcher
needs to make is to pick a sampling method. Sampling in ethnography, according to KoroLjungberg et al (2009), is closed, within the culture or the community. In cMOOCs the potential
size of the community is an aspect of the medium that might become a problem. cMOOCs have
many participants who sign up but only a few actively participate.
Some studies show that only around 10% of those who sign up are active members of
the cMOOC. For instance, deWaard et al wrote about participation in MobiMOOC, and that in
that MOOC only 32 out of the 556 registered participants were memorably active (2011).
Identifying active members in a cMOOC community is easy in that the researcher can observe
who is actively posting and interacting with others. It will be important for the researcher,
through continuous analysis of the data, to determine who is still actively participating, who is
not, and to determine the reasons for the continued motivation to participate in the course.
Due to the potential size of the cMOOC, if there are too many participants, the sampling
strategy will be two-fold. There will be a typical case sampling strategy employed to sample
data from those who are actively engaged in the course. Engagement, in this instance, is the key
characteristic of a typical learner who will be participating for most of the course. There will
also be deviant sampling whereby the deviant cases will be learners that started the course, and
were visible for parts of the course, but at some point stopped participating visibly. In this
approach the researcher excludes people who dont participate visibly at all during the course.

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These registrants who signed up for the course but dont participate in the community arent
viewed as members of that community for the purposes of this research.
Surveys. One versatile data collection instrument that will be used in this research project
is the survey. Surveys allow researchers to gather data at particular points in time. For this
research project surveys will be distributed at various points in the course. An introductory
survey will serve as a way to capture the incoming characteristics and attitudes of learners who
have signed up to participate in the cMOOC. This entry survey can serve as a means to track an
individuals participation in the course and provide some more background to the learners and
their characteristics. These would allow for a more in-depth understanding of learners actions in
the course. An exit survey will be performed at the conclusion of the course in order to capture
data from learners at the end of the course. This data can then be compared and contrasted to the
data collected at the beginning of the course. There is a plan to also survey learners throughout
the course, however this will be used judiciously so that informants do not experience survey
fatigue. The surveys used in this ethnographic research project will be exploratory in nature.
According to Cohen et al, exploratory surveys are those in which no prior assumptions are made
and in which relationships and patterns are explored (2011).
Observations. Observation is the systematic looking, and noting, of elements in a
researched environment such as people, events, and behaviors. Simpson and Tuson note that
observation is highly flexible as a form of data collection that can enable researchers to have
access to interaction in social context (as cited in Cohen et al, 2011). They go on to write that
observations can yield data that can complement other forms of data collection. The observations
in this ethnographic research will be unstructured, which according to Patton are used when the

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researcher is less clear on what he is looking for, and therefore collects all and decides on the
significance later (as cited in Cohen et al, 2011).
The researcher will be a complete researcher, which in Golds terms means that the
researcher only observes the community and does not participate in it (as cited in Cohen et al,
2011). In the cMOOC setting is easy for the researcher to blend into the background. Due to the
lack of physical presence in an online environment the learners will only know that a researcher
is observing the cMOOC interactions due to the disclosure at the beginning of the course. If the
researcher is only an observer, and is not visible in the everyday occurrences and events of the
course, the participants will most likely not give the researcher and his data collection a second
thought. The online environment allows for observation without intrusion or disruption caused
by the researchers movements around the observed environment.
Documents & Artefacts. Throughout the duration of a cMOOC participants sometimes
create various artefacts. Examples of such artefacts include final projects from MobiMOOC
20121, projects completed by learners in OLDSMOOC, as well as digital artefacts such as badges
created by the designers of OLDSMOOC2, and finally academic research produced as a
consequence of the cMOOC. A more recent example of such academic work is the published
work of Mackness and Bell (2015) that directly links to their participation in the Rhizomatic
Learning MOOC offered by Dave Cormier in 20143. Artefacts such as these can provide a
1 Examples of final projects from MobiMOOC 2012 can be found here:
http://mobimooc.wikispaces.com/a+MobiMOOC+hello%21
2 Badges earned, and their descriptions, can be found here:
http://www.olds.ac.uk/badges
3 The Rhizomatic learning course can be found here:
https://p2pu.org/en/courses/882/rhizomatic-learning-the-community-is-thecurriculum/

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thicker description of the environment in which learners are participating and they could offer
underlying motivations of continued learner participation in cMOOCs.
Interviews. Interviews, according to Cohen et al, are a flexible tool that allow for data
collection through multi-sensory channels that can encompass the verbal, non-verbal, spoken,
and heard. It also allows for knowledge to be generated through conversations instead of simple
question and answer sessions (2011). Interviews are an important tool for data collection in this
ethnographic research because, when coupled with surveys, they allow the researcher to go
deeper into the responses that informants have provided in surveys, and to provide data that
further explicates particular learner interactions in the course. The interviews for this
ethnographic project will be semi-structured, containing certain areas of inquiry that the
researcher will need explored, but they will be flexible to allow the informants to guide the
interactions in the interview. This will potentially allow for unforeseen information to be
discovered.
Field Notes. The researcher will maintain a logbook of his observations of the learners in
the cMOOC, his interactions with research participants, as well as logging developing
hypotheses and observations throughout the course. This will allow the researcher to track his
on-going hypotheses, as well as registering sentiments expressed by the learners in the course.
One of the benefits of cMOOCs is that they allow for learners to have their own learning spaces.
Learners can mold their learning spaces to suit their needs. This also means that throughout the
course learners may delete materials for a variety of reasons. These materials, or the underlying
sentiments and messages in them, could prove invaluable in identifying learner motivation in
cMOOCs, thus the researcher should log data from individual learner spaces in order to preserve
them for later analysis.

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Grounded Theory
In a grounded theory approach to researching learner motivation in cMOOCs the researcher will
be using observations of the community, surveys, interviews, social network data, data analytics,
and field notes as part of his data collection strategy. Just as is the case in ethnography, the
community is finite. The community of learners in the cMOOC may be in a state of flux as more
participants may join as the course progresses. Despite this the participants in the community are
still countable.
One of the data collection challenges will be to reach those other participants who signed
up for the cMOOC but are non-visible participants. Those participants who are usually invisible
to the community can be identified and included as part of the research. In the above
ethnographic approach the researcher frames members of the community as actively
participating in some aspect of the course. In that approach the learner motivations discovered
will only be of those who are actively and visibly participating. In the grounded theory approach
the aim is not just reach out to the typical cases, but to also reach out to those who signed-up but
are never visible. This sampling approach may yield more detailed descriptions of what
motivates learners to keep participating in the course.
Thus, in addition to the typical case sampling, which will be employed in ethnographic
approach as well, there will also be a deviant case sampling. Typical-cases will be learners who
participate in all or part of the course. Deviant case is defined here as those who signed up but
are not visibly participating in the course. Within the overall sample group of non-participants
the researcher will be using a convenience sample due to the fact that participants and their
attributes are not generally known before the researcher starts reaching out to them.

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Surveys. Just like the ethnographic research approach, in grounded theory research
surveys are a versatile data collection instrument to be used. An introductory survey will serve as
a way to capture the incoming characteristics and attitudes of learners who have signed up to
participate in the cMOOC. This entry survey, in addition to connecting certain attitudes and
information for specific individuals can serve as a means to track an individuals participation in
the course. Through survey data collection information about a participants blogs, Twitter,
Facebook, and other social media identities can be collected for the purposes of understanding
what interactions can be attributed to particular individuals.
An exit survey will be performed at the conclusion of the course in order to capture data
from learners at the end of the course. This data can then be compared and contrasted to the data
collected at the beginning of the course, as well as evaluated alongside with any findings from
the social network analysis (see next section). Just like the ethnographic approach, the learners
will be surveyed throughout the course, however this will be used judiciously so that informants
do not experience survey fatigue. An approach to avoid survey fatigue is to keep surveys short
by limiting the surveys to a handful of questions, and collect data that is on a Likert scale. The
surveys used in this grounded research project will be exploratory in nature as well.
Observations. Just as with the ethnographic approach to this research question, the
grounded theory approach will use observations for the same reasons. Observations are a way for
the researcher to collect data about the community, their interactions, and their outward
expressions of their attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs while they are active in the learning
community.
Unlike the ethnographic approach, where the researcher is a complete observer, in this
grounded theory approach the researcher will take on the role of participant-as-observer, which

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Gold defines as a member of the group who reveals his role as an observer, and whose
involvement with the group may give him some insider knowledge (as cited in Cohen et al,
2011). This insider knowledge could be invaluable as the researcher works toward understanding
the underlying motivations of learners.
Interviews. As with the ethnographic research above, interviews in this grounded theory
research proposal are a great source of data for all the same reasons as discussed above in the
ethnography section. In grounded theory specifically interviews can be tailored toward learners
who were active in the course, partly active, and not active. Having three different types of
interviews would allow data collection that is relevant to each registrant type. For active learners
the researcher can complete semi-structured interviews, just as he would in the ethnographic
approach. As the researcher starts to interview informants who were not as active, or did not
participate at all in a visible manner, the interviews can begin as more structured interviews in
order to collect more data from those informants. Data from active participants will be plentiful
given other data researchers can collect from them during the course. Since data from nonvisible members of the course will not be as abundant, the researcher would need to ensure that
through interviews a certain baseline of data is collected.
Social Network Data. Participants in cMOOCs explore their learning through use of
their own spaces. These spaces in past cMOOCs have included Twitter, Facebook and Google
groups, participants blogs, and discussion forums. Data collected from social networking
interactions includes textual data (what the participants are talking about), network connections
(who is interacting with whom), and content data (content that is external to the tweet, such as a
shared URL). In this category of data the researcher will include click streams of different
participants as well as other analytics collected by the platform that hosts the cMOOC.

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Field Notes. In this grounded theory approach to exploring learner motivation in


cMOOCs the researcher will maintain a logbook of his interactions with research participants in
the learning community. In this logbook he will be logging developing hypotheses and
observations throughout the course. This will allow the researcher to register sentiments
expressed by the learners that exist in the course, sentiments that might be removed by the
participants before the course ends. One of the benefits of having learners engage in their own
learning spaces is that they have control of that learning space, and they can mold it to suit their
needs. This also means that throughout the course learners may delete materials for a variety of
reasons. These materials, or the underlying sentiments and messages in them, could prove
invaluable in identifying learner motivation in cMOOCs.
One other use of field notes is keeping track of participants as they come into, and depart
from, the course. If the researcher notices that certain individuals, who were once active, no
longer are it is possible then for the researcher to reach out to those learners for short interviews
to discuss the course, or to make sure that shorter intermediate surveys are sent to those learners
to collect data. The field notes in this case are part of an iterative data analysis and data
collection cycle.
Data Analysis
Each of the research methods provides for different ways of conducting an analysis of the
collected data. As Cohen et al state, qualitative data often focus on smaller numbers of people but
this data tends to be detailed and rich (2011). The ethnographic data analysis would focus more
on the visible and observable, while the grounded theory approach would also include the
invisible and lurking elements of a MOOC.

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Ethnography
Data analysis in the ethnographic approach will include primarily content analysis.
Content analysis, as defined by Cohen et al (2011) is the systematic set of procedures for the
rigorous analysis, examination, and verification of the contents of written data. Free-form text
data from surveys, transcribed interviews, and text-data from interactions between community
members (learners) will be analyzed to determine underlying motivators, and demotivators, for
participants in the course.
One of the main issues that might arise with content analysis is the richness of the original text
data. If participants who complete surveys write a substantial amount in those surveys, it will be
possible to gain thicker descriptions of whats happening in the course, this also means a lot of
work coding text. Even if survey participants do not write a lot in the free-form parts of the
surveys there is still work for the researcher because he will need to find different ways of
interpreting what survey participants are sharing in the surveys.
Another potential issue with the textual data is determining motivators and demotivators
from normal course conversations. Learners may spontaneously volunteer to share what excites
them about the course while discussing some aspect of the course, but this is usually included in
text about other content. The researcher needs to be vigilant to observe and isolate what
participants are sharing about the course during their normal conversations in the course.
In addition to content analysis, the researcher expects that he will also be providing
descriptive statistics from the surveys that he creates. Based on the Field Notes collected and
documents analyzed, surveys will be created and will contain various questions on a Likert scale.
This scale data lends itself to analysis using descriptive statistics. One of the main challenges
with descriptive statistics is establishing relevance, or answering the so what? question.

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Grounded Theory
The grounded theory approach will include the data analysis methods of the ethnographic
approach, namely content analysis and descriptive statistics, and it will incorporate two
additional types of analysis: social network analysis, and the analysis of analytics collected
during the course.
Social Network Analysis. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a strategy for investigating
social structures (Otte & Rousseau, 2002). In social network analysis the researcher will examine
the data collected during the course to discover how learners in the course connected with one
another, and who connected with whom, and about what, in the course. Data collected from the
various typical places of interaction in the course, such as Twitter, Facebook, course forums, and
participants blogs, will serve as a basis for the creation of this analysis. The data collected from
the analysis will be used to inform the researchers creation of subsequent surveys and interview
questions with research participants. The main area of concern with SNA is that it, by definition,
requires that the learners be active in the course and interacting with fellow learners. If a learner
is invisible, in other words the learner does not visibly participate in the course and interact with
fellow learners, there wont be a way to understand what the invisible learners are up to in the
course using this method of data analysis.
Analytics. One of the ways to remedy the lack of data for the invisible learner in the
course will be to use analytics collected during course. When learners sign-up for a cMOOC
there usually is some way to account for them at the beginning. In MobiMOOC 2011 for
example learners joined a Google Group4. In Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011

4 The MobiMOOC 2011 google group: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!


forum/mobimooc

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learners signed up for notifications though a system called gRSShopper5. In Rhizomatic Learning
2014 learners signed up for the course on a platform called Peer2Peer University (P2PU)6, and
later on joined groups on Facebook, on Google+, and participated on Twitter using the hashtag
#rhizo14. Both through the use of tools such as TAGS7, and through the available analytics
collected on the various platforms the researcher can potentially track and analyze the paths
taken by those invisible participants in the course. These would be individuals who may be
following along the course, but dont interact with other participants.
The specific analysis of the data will depend on what the platforms used for the course
are able to collect. If a system is used that requires users to create accounts then analytics
information such as user-logon and click-through streams can be potentially captured. Then,
analyzing this data the researcher can determine at least two types of otherwise invisible
registrants. Those who signed up for the course and never interacted with it again, and those
who signed-up for it and click, or otherwise interact, on at least one resource from that course.
Using this data the researcher can reach out to registrants for the course with specific surveys and
interview questionnaires that best fit their pattern of engagement with the course materials.
Discussion
This section will address the implications of the data collection and analysis strategies
discussed above. In particular both practical issues such as the availability of resources, timing,

5 The homepage for CCK11 and course sign-up: http://cck11.mooc.ca/


6 The official Rhizomatic Learning 2014 course homepage on P2PU:
https://p2pu.org/en/courses/882/rhizomatic-learning-the-community-is-thecurriculum/
7 Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet (TAGS) tool: https://tags.hawksey.info/

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS20

cost, and tools to be used; as well as research implications such as validity, reliability of sources,
and ethical implications.
Ethnography
The following section provides a brief discussion of the various elements of research as
they apply and impact the ethnographic approach of examining the question of learner
motivation in cMOOCs.
Availability of Resources. One of the key resources for this project will be a cMOOC
that is offered by a convener that is someone than the researcher. Without a cMOOC to provide
the topic, and initial seed for the community to form, this project cannot move forward. In
addition to having a cMOOC offered there will need to be enough registrants for the MOOC in
order to provide a large enough community for its members to engage with one another, and to
allow for the attrition that usually occurs in cMOOCs. From personal observations the
researcher has observed that cMOOCs attract anywhere from 50 to 500 registered learners. Some
examples of such cMOOCs include MobiMOOC 2011 where there were 556 registrants
(deWaard et al, 2011), in Rhizomatic Learning 2014 there were approximately 400 registrants8,
and in Connected Courses there were 2439 registrants.
Time Considerations. The course that will be observed as part of this ethnographic study
will be a course that is not offered by the researcher himself. Instead, the course will be offered
by a third party that is not directly involved with the research taking place. Functionally this
means that the timing of the course offering is not controlled by the researcher, and thus the

8 As counted on April 11, 2014 from the participant list on located at:
https://p2pu.org/en/courses/882/people/
9 As counted on April 11, 2014 from the participant list located at:
http://connectedcourses.net/all-blogs/

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS21

researcher needs to be flexible in terms of being available to gather data. The lack of control of
the timing of the course also means that the researcher needs to be vigilant for potential cMOOC
offerings on the horizon so that he can negotiate access to the course. In the ethnographic study
this access is potentially easier to obtain because the researcher is observing visible members of
the community. No access to participant names and contact information from the registration
system used by the course platform is required to reach out to non-visible members of the
community.
Cost Considerations. Due to the free nature of cMOOCs, attending the course and
observing learners in their learning environment will be cost-free for the researcher. The only
expected cost will be for qualitative analysis software such as Atlas.ti ($99 for 2 years) or NVivo
($90 for 12 months). Other software that the researcher will use as part of his repertoire of tools
to collect data, are tools such as Google Docs, SurveyMonkey, and Evernote that the researcher
has access to already.
Trustworthiness of Informants & Reliability. Qualitative research, such as this
ethnographic research, according to Brock-Utne, aims at being holistic and strives to record
multiple interpretations of the event or events that are unfolding (as cited in Cohen et al, 2011).
As such, one participants views or interpretations will most likely not represent the whole group.
The status, or position, of the researcher should not bias informants participating in this research,
but potential biases will be accounted for as part of this research project.
One of the potential issues exists with the sampling technique. Only those who are eager
to take part in the research might respond to the call to be informants in the research, and
therefore this might bias the sample. While thick descriptions might be generated, they might not
be as complete as when more cMOOC participants volunteer to be informants.

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS22

Another potential issue exists in the content analysis. To address any potential biases the
researcher will work with colleagues to ensure that data is analyzed by several researchers and
that there is an acceptable level of inter-rater reliability for the different categories proposed
during the coding process.
Validity. For interview data one type of validation that the researcher will employ is
respondent validation. Transcripts of interviews will be provided to the informants to ensure
accuracy. Then, once transcripts are verified as accurate, if there are any questions with regard to
what the informants shared, or how those responses may be interpreted by the researcher, the
informants will also provide disambiguation of their comments.
Once certain conclusions have been reached from the analysis of the data, informants will
be queried to verify the emic perspectives are accurate. There is confidence that informants will
be truthful in their interactions with the researcher because they are taking part in the course, and
in the research, of their own free will. One of the questions for validity is cross-cultural validity;
to what extent do the learners home-cultures influence their individual motivations in a
cMOOC, and how applicable is that to other cultures?
Ethical Implications. One ethical implication of choosing an ethnographic approach to
research is getting permission to enter the community in order to study it. In traditional
ethnography communities are closed and as such explicit permission is required. With online
research, and specifically with MOOCs, the course and the community are open and individuals
may enter freely into this learning community. The underlying principles of openness of MOOCs
make for an ethically gray area because explicit permission to join the community is not always
required.

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS23

With that in mind, it is better to err on the side of caution and have the researcher to
disclose his role in the course as a researcher so that all participants are fully aware that they are
being observed. It would also be courteous to the convener of the course to inform them of the
role of the researcher. While there is a concern that knowledge of active research in the course
might change some learners behaviors, there are potentially bigger risks from a deceptive
researcher not disclosing his role in the course.
Software to be used. In this ethnographic research NVivo will be used to analyze
qualitative data. Evernote will be used to collect field notes, and Google Docs will be used to
collect observation data. TAGS will be used to collect all Twitter messages with the course
hashtag. The researcher will need to determine which software will be best for harvesting data
from other social media platforms that the course will use such as Facebook and Google+.
SurveyMonkey will be used to design, distribute, and collect survey responses.
Grounded Theory
The following section provides a brief discussion of the various elements of research as
they apply to, and impact, the grounded theory approach of examining the question of learner
motivation in cMOOCs.
Availability of Resources. In this grounded theory approach, just as with the
ethnographic approach, one of the key resources will be a cMOOC that is offered by a convener
that is someone than the researcher. Without a cMOOC to provide the topic, initial space, and
seed of ideas, for the community to form this project cannot move forward. In addition to having
a cMOOC offered there will need to be enough registrants for the MOOC in order to provide a
large enough community for its members to engage with one another, and to allow for the

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS24

attrition that usually occurs in cMOOCs, without that attrition becoming an issue for data
collection.
Time Considerations. The course that will be observed as part of this grounded theory
study will be a course that is not offered by the researcher himself. As with the ethnographic
study version of this research, the course will be offered by a third party that is not directly
involved with the research taking place. Pragmatically this means that the timing of the course is
not in the hands of the researcher, and thus the researcher needs to be flexible in terms of being
available to gather data and be part of the cMOOC community of participants. The lack of
control, in terms of when the course is offered, on the part of the researcher also means that the
researcher needs to be vigilant for potential cMOOC offerings on the horizon so that he can
negotiate access to the course.
In the grounded theory approach this access may not be as easy to obtain. The researcher
will need to work with the convener of the course in order to post appropriate notice to the
registrants of the course that analytics and social network information may be used for research
purposes, and that registrants may be contacted to fill out one of more surveys as part of this
research. This is necessary because the researcher will need to have access participant names and
contact information so as to reach non-visible members of the community. In addition more time
may be needed as built-in analytics capabilities are assessed, and then supplemented by
additional tools brought by the researcher.
Cost Considerations. As with the ethnographic approach, due to the free nature of
cMOOCs, attending the course and observing learners in their learning environment will be costfree for the researcher. The expected costs will be for qualitative analysis software such as
Atlas.ti ($99 for 2 years) or NVivo ($90 for 12 months), as well as a license for Tableau ($999)

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS25

that will be used for analysis of analytics data collected. Other software that the researcher will
use as part of his repertoire of tools to collect data, such as Gephi, Google Docs, SurveyMonkey,
and Evernote, the researcher already has access to or they are free for use.
Trustworthiness of Informants & Reliability. This ground theory approach is seen by
the researcher as a type of mixed-methods research. As with the ethnographic approach above,
the aim is to be holistic and record multiple interpretations of the events that are unfolding. One
participants views or interpretations will not represent the whole group. As with ethnographic
research the status, or position, of the researcher should not bias informants participating in this
research, but any emerging biases will be accounted for as part of this research project. In this
approach the researcher will be a participant researcher, and therefore visible in the community.
This role may make the researcher more approachable to the community and perhaps the
community may be more likely to provide more detailed information as rapport is developed
between the researcher and the community.
There are two potential issues with informant sampling: One issue is the same as with the
ethnographic approach; that only those who are eager to take part in the research will respond to
the call to be informants, and therefore this might bias the sample. The second issue is recruiting
informants who are not visibly active in the course, or who have dropped out. The data that
they could provide is potentially illuminating in this research, but the fact that theyve been less
active, or not active at all, might also mean that they do not wish to participate in the research. In
the end, as with the ethnographic approach while thick descriptions might be generated, they
might not be as complete as when more cMOOC participants volunteer to be informants.
Finally, the other potential issue is with regard to the reliability of the analytics data.
Without access to certain raw data, such as the Twitter firehose the entirety of twitter data,

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS26

some of the Twitter data might be incomplete and might only show part of the activity in the
course. Another potential issue with analytics is determining what each technology used in the
course supports in terms of data capture, and how this is useful to the researcher. The reliability
may vary from system to system, and different systems may collect different sorts of data. Data
collected in various systems will need to be processed in order to make it comparable for
analysis. For content analysis the researcher will work with colleagues to determine the interrater reliability for the different categories proposed during the qualitative data coding process.
Validity. For interview data one type of validation that the researcher will employ is
respondent validation. Transcripts of interviews will be provided to the informants to ensure
accuracy. Once transcripts are verified as accurate, if there are any questions with regard to what
the informants shared, or how those may be interpreted by the researcher, the informants will be
asked to disambiguate. As with the ethnographic research, one of the questions that is relevant is
cross-cultural validity: to what extent do the learners home-cultures influence their individual
motivations in a cMOOC, and how applicable is that to other cultures?
Ethical Implications. As with the ethnographic approach, in this grounded theory
approach one ethical implication of choosing to do cMOOC research is whether or not to seek
permission to enter the course and observe the learners in their environment. In online research
of open communities, and specifically with cMOOCs, the course and the community are open
and individuals may enter freely into this learning community. The open ethos of MOOCs makes
for an ethically gray area because explicit permission to join the community is not usually
required. These are not new dilemmas brought on by the special consideration of cMOOCs. They
have been discussed and explored with other types of technology mediated learning as well
(Kanuka & Anderson, 2007).

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS27

As with the ethnographic approach, it is better to err on the side of caution and have the
researcher disclose his role in the course as a researcher so that all participants are fully aware
that they are being observed. While there is a concern that knowledge of active research in the
course might change some learners behaviors, there are bigger risks from a deceptive researcher
not disclosing his role in the course. The researcher believes that this disclosure, at the point
where learners sign up for the MOOC, is important in this approach because the researcher will
be a participant-researcher, and it is important to not have course participants feel deceived or
betrayed by their course interactions with the researcher.
Software to be used. As part of this research, software such as NVivo will be used to
analyze qualitative data. Tableau will be used for analytics analysis, and Gephi will be used to
analyze learner social networks in the course. Evernote will be used to collect field notes, and
Google Docs will be used to collect observation data. TAGS will be used to collect as many
Twitter messages with the course hashtag as the twitter API allows. The researcher will need to
determine which software will be best for harvesting data from other social media platforms that
the course will use such as Facebook and Google+. SurveyMonkey will be used to design,
distribute, and collect survey responses.

PLANNING RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR LEARNER MOTIVATION IN MOOCS28

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