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WORKING PAPER

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH, WRITING, AND LEARNING: THE MOBIMOOC


RESEARCH TEAM EXPERIENCE AND WHY WE COLLABORATE
Apostolos Koutropoulos
Working Paper

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH, WRITING, AND LEARNING

Collaborative Research, Writing, and Learning: The MobiMOOC Research Team experience and
why we collaborate
In the Spring of 2011 Inge de Waard designed and implemented MobiMOOC, a Massive
Open Online Course (MOOC, later referred to as cMOOC) that centered on mobile learning.
The course ran for six weeks, with unofficial plenary weeks one week before the beginning, and
one week after the end of the MOOC (de Waard, 2011; Koutropoulos, 2012). MobiMOOC was
the third MOOC to be offered that year (after Learning Analytics and Knowledge 2011, and
Connectivism and Connected Knowledge 2011). In the overall chronology of MOOCs it was the
eighth MOOC to be offered (Downes, 2011). Like other cMOOCs, the technological setup of
MobiMOOC was a DIY (do it yourself) setup that included free tools like Google Groups,
Wikispaces, and Twitter; as well as technology brought in by participants such as using
Mendeley groups to track articles on Mobile Learning, and a Facebook group to keep the
discussion going in another setting.
During the final weeks of the MOOC de Waard had an idea to do some research on
MOOCs using MobiMOOC as an incubator. Up to that point there hadn't been much inquiry on
MOOCs and it seemed like a good idea to launch an inquiry into MOOCs using anonymized data
from MobiMOOC. The data existed, so why not capitalize on this and have a more in-depth look
at the data to see what it could tell us about participants in MOOCs? MOOCs at the time didnt
make the headlines the same way they did in the subsequent years, but the idea of offering open
courses, at scale, captured the imaginations of quite a few people. Initially we wanted to see who
was participating in MobiMOOC, but in subsequent papers we also explored other aspects of
MOOCs, including what patterns of participation may tell us about learner engagement in
MOOCs.

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH, WRITING, AND LEARNING

De Waard posted a notice on the discussion board of the course to see who else was
interested in participating in the researching and writing of this research paper. There were 23
peers who participated in the open thread regarding this open contribution to this paper. This
represented 4% of total participants (total participants = 556; de Waard et al., 2011) and 31% of
active participants (active participants = 74; de Waard et al., 2011) of MobiMOOC. From the
comments on the discussion forum it seemed like there was quite a lot of excitement regarding
this open research project.
At the end, when we started to put pen to paper, we had seven members in the team, so
not everyone who participated in that initial rallying-call thread, or indicated an interest in
collaborating ended up participating. This means that 22% of active participants, and 1% of
overall participants of the MOOC participated in the MRT. It should also be noted that we almost
left out one of our members from the team due to miscommunication in the discussion forum.
Luckily, everyone who wanted to collaborate was on-board by the end.
Research Process
The MRTs research process was one of distributed collaboration. We used free tools,
such as Google Docs, email and Mendeley, available to us to coordinate, read, write, and edit our
contributions to our projects. Our inaugural project was a topic that was suggested by one of the
participants, and presenters, of the MOOC. As the organizer of MobiMOOC, Inge deWaard took
the reins for the coordination of this initial paper. Initial ideas and potential articles for the
literature review were discussed in the initial discussion thread. Once the paper had been
roughly sketched out, it was shared with other members of the MRT so that they could take a part
in molding the shape of the final paper.

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH, WRITING, AND LEARNING

That initial paper (de Waard et al. 2011a) was quite formative in how our team worked on
subsequent papers. Our team worked through progressive iterations, adding to the research effort,
and through asynchronous discussions we refined what we were able to glean from the collected
data. This process was iterative, and it brought in the expertise, and passion, of every member of
the MRT. Drafts of the paper were circulated amongst the MRT members in a circular fashion.
The term we used was passing the baton to the next member of the team. After several circles
through the team, a rough draft would peek through. That rough draft was then distributed and
refined by going a few more rounds in the team circle. One of the things that really helped us out
as a team was the difference in time zone. We could have one member complete some work on
the paper, pass it off to someone else in another time zone, and then go rest for the evening. This
way, the paper could be worked on continuously.
Our initial paper was submitted to the mLearning 2011 conference, in Beijing, China.
Not only was our paper accepted for presentation, it was also awarded the outstanding paper
award for the conference. This, along with our second paper being published in the International
Review of Research in Online and Distance Learning, gave us a boost to continue our
collaboration beyond these initial two papers. For subsequent paper, we started brainstorming
topics and sharing these with fellow MRT members. These topics, along with rough ideas about
the type of research and the direction of the research, were shared collaboratively on Google
Docs. The person who proposed the topic would become the project lead for those papers. As
one of our team members pointed out, there was a lot of data produced through the interactions
of participants in MobiMOOC, so we had many topics we could pursue.
Finally, right before we published our first paper, there was a question as to which order
the authors would appear on the paper. We decided that the idea originator, and project lead, for

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH, WRITING, AND LEARNING

the paper should appear as first author. All other authors, in the first paper, were alphabetical by
last name, and in subsequent papers we rotated non-first authors so as not to privilege one
member over another. I believe that this method worked well.
Individual Motivations and views on the MRT
After completing two papers, and one international conference presentation, MRT
members had proposed topics for subsequent papers. Some were seen through to fruition, and
others were started but never finished for one reasons or another. One of the papers that we
started collecting data for, but never finished, was a paper on why we collaborate. Even though
the original paper wasnt completed, the data that were collected through this process do offer up
some additional insights into the MRT and the collaborative process.
To collect this data, we setup a private Google Group, and each question had a thread
dedicated to discussing it. The project lead for the paper posted some initial questions, but MRT
members were also able to provide their own questions, and commentary, in order to dig further
down. Since the data for this was in a private Google group, any quotes used are coded to
anonymize, to some degree, the author of the comment. Each member was named MRT#, so in
the end we have members MRT1 through MRT7.
To kick off our brainstorming about our participation in the MRT, there were two
questions posed: Were we a share person? and a question inquiring what our experiences were
with collaborative research prior to joining the MRT. We had read an article in the Educause
Review discussing Open Faculty (Anderson, 2010) which prompted us to think about what sort
of category we would fall into.
Of the members who participated in discussing this aspect of our collaboration (5 out of
7), four members identified themselves in the share category while one identified themselves

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH, WRITING, AND LEARNING

as sometimes share, and sometimes not. Of the share members, MRT5 writes I have a hard
time not sharing everything that I do ... I find the idea of holding back information difficult, and
MRT4 thinks of sharing as a moral issue, stating I am a share person, for if I do not share I
come into a grey ethical area inside my head, wondering why I do not share? and when I enter
that zone it conflicts with the morals I got from my childhood. MRT3 indicated that they would
share limitless resources, such as links to internet resources, PDFs that they could share, and any
knowledge they had. However, limited, tangible resources, like books, might not be shared
unless they knew that the resource would be returned.
As far as previous collaborative experience goes six out of seven MRT members
responded. It seems that most of us have been exposed to collaboration through our graduate
studies, both during their Masters studies, and through PhD studies, for those who had
completed a PhD. Some members started collaboration as part of a school project, but continued
to collaborate even outside of school. We discussed a bit why we liked collaborative research,
and a few ideas crystalized from this. MRT4 commented that they like collaborative research
because one person no longer (if ever) knows it all.
MRT1 commented:
I don't want to repeat myself, but think this is a great model for scholarship going
forward. Scholars should come together and work this way based on experience and
affinity and I can even imagine a service towards that end (like Craigslist for
academic, minus all the negative stuff). I think the institution as your natural
research group (working with scholars only from your institution) feels a touch out
of step with elearning and mlearning, a bit antiquated so I see what we are doing as
a progressive trend.

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH, WRITING, AND LEARNING

This stirred up some conversation about the acceptability of co-researched and copublished papers in academia. MRT5 wondered if academia will ever take this type of
collaboration seriously. They wondered if we, or any other group like the MRT, can produce
something significant enough to be taken seriously. MRT7 brought up an anecdote from their
own life where their institution would allow co-published papers to be used for tenure and
promotion, so it seems that academic institutions have varying levels of acceptability for giving
credit for this type of collaborate research. Finally, as a side effect of the international
collaboration, language usage skills were something that came up. MRT6 commented that they
sometimes have challenges due to lack of English skills. As a result of collaboration they study
English now in order to reflect their ideas more clearly in our collaborative work.
The next set of questions dealt with our motivations for joining the MRT; what we found
most interesting about our collaboration in the group; and what have we gained, if anything,
through our participation in the MRT. The vast majority of members in the MRT identified two
reasons for joining the MRT. First there was an interest to research and publish, so they viewed
it as a publishing opportunity. The work produced in the MRT could be artifacts that one adds to
a CV. This research and publish goal was identified by both members with a PhD degree and
ones with a Masters degree. The second reason to get involved with the MRT was that
MobiMOOC, as a MOOC, had something special that set it apart from other MOOCs. An
example of this sentiment can be seen in a response by MRT1, and subsequent responses by
others:

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH, WRITING, AND LEARNING

I was interested in MOOCs as a pedagogical format, knew mlearning was part of


my (and our) future, so as naturally drawn to it. Hadn't intended to write anything
about it afterwards, but was intrigued when Inge put out the call. However, it was
something about the MobiMOOC in particular that did it. I don't have much
desire to do the same for Change11 or other MOOCs. Something about these
people and this topic in particular. (MRT1)

This may be tangential, but I too don't get the same vibe from
ChangeMOOC and other MOOCs in general. (MRT3)

I didn't last long in Change [...] I felt shut down early on, and I had a busy
semester, so the battle just wasn't worth my time. I thought of trying
to re-engage the week that Clark Quinn was presenting, but I found the
site was difficult to use - so again I wasn't able to overcome the
inertia to participate. (MRT5)

Diversity was the main element that our members found interesting about our
collaboration in the MRT. Our group was diverse in many different aspects. We had members
from North and South America, Europe and Asia! We also came to the MRT with a variety of
academic backgrounds which included mobile learning, language learning, medical education,
physics, educational technology, instructional design, and pedagogy. The interdisciplinary nature
of our group made it possible to look at a problem from a variety of lenses and, hopefully, gave
us a more rounded view of our conclusions.

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH, WRITING, AND LEARNING

In terms of what MRT members gained through their collaboration in the group, the
answers varied. We all gained some new, wonderful, colleagues that we could continue to
collaborate with, even post-MRT. This means that our network increased. Some members also
identified skill improvement as part of the MRT collaboration, and some of these skills could be
put to use in their day-to-day work, as well as in research contexts. Of course, another benefit is
the self-esteem boost that we all got by having our papers published and getting an award for our
presentation at mLearn 2011. This gain in confidence can be useful in continuing to work at
researching and publishing in this field, and working collaboratively!
Finally, the question came up as to what has sustained our participation in the MRT and
we pondered why, at the time, we had not fizzled out as a working group. There were a number
of factors identified in our discussion as to why we hadnt ceased our collaboration as a group.
The fact that we had good company and good conversations was encouraging, and this enabled
true collaboration. We were also a safe environment where any one of us could fail publicly, and
had permission to be clueless (MRT4). This meant that ideas could be more freely exchanged
and discussed, and that individual members could enrich themselves through participation in the
group. Of course, being interested in the topic (mobile learning) was also a big plus. This wasnt
just research on MOOCs, but rather research on MOOCs by way of a MOOC with a topic of
common interest. This meant that we both learned in MobiMOOC and from MobiMOOC.
Finally, what sustained participation in the MRT was the dynamic nature of the team.
This was true in two aspects. First, the MRT wasnt conceived as a permanent group. One of the
members indicated that they believed that the team would change overtime, as communities
naturally do. In this sense the MRT seems more like a community of practice (Wenger 1998,
2006). The second aspect of the dynamic nature of the group was the freedom from timelines and

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the pressure that they can exert. This meant that we could work on topics that interested us, and
worry about a publication medium later on. Finally, another thing that was identified as
sustaining participation was the volume of data that we had available to analyze, if we wanted to,
that could lead to further understanding of the learning and interactions that can happen in
MOOCs.
Conclusions
The question now is where is the MRT now that more than two years have elapsed since
its founding? As predicted by one of our team members in 2011, when the original discussion on
why we collaborate occurred, today the MRT has, in a sense, disbanded since we arent actively
pursuing MobiMOOC related research. The MRT has evolved, and morphed as weve continued
to think about both topics of common interest to us, such as mobile learning and MOOCs, and
topics of individual interest. We have all gained wonderful colleagues that we can collaborate
with as interesting topics arise.
Our teams final, forthcoming, MobiMOOC 2011 paper deals with twitter data collected
during MobiMOOC 2011, and what twitter data can tell us about cMOOC participation. In the
post-MRT era fruitful collaborations such as Koutropoulos & Hogue (2012) and an upcoming
collaboration on Seamless Learning (de Waard, Keskin, Koutropoulos, forthcoming) are taking
place. Also, the MRT collaboration, and our accomplished successes, may have been one small
push for individual members to pursue other publishing endeavors, such as the works of
Gallagher (2013) and de Waard (2013). The MRT, in my mind, has proven that collaborative
research is an asset to the researchers involved, not only in the research produced, but also
because collaborative research supports the development of professional and learning networks.

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