Research Proposal, v. 2


A brief summary of my proposed PhD research.  If you have some strange desire to read the entire thing you can download the PDF here: Threshold Concepts in Connectivist MOOCs 

My study aims to explore the lived experiences of participants in a cMOOC (rhizo15). I conceive of it as a phenomenological inquiry, and am using threshold concepts as a heuristic to help identify the types of knowledge and skills that support successful participation in this environment.

So what does that all entail?  A bit of background…

rhizo15 is this years iteration of Dave Cormier’s MOOC on rhizomatic learning (if you’re not familiar with what rhizomatic learning is about, check out Dave’s blog).  I participated in rhizo14 (well, to be accurate, I’m still participating, as it’s become the MOOC that refuses to die) and found it to be a truly transformational experience; in my thinking, in my practice, and in my connections with others.  It’s also a textbook example of a cMOOC (side note: I find the term cMOOC troublesome, but for ease and clarity in putting this project together I’m putting that aside for now).  So when Dave announced rhizo15 would start this March, fitting nicely into my PhD timeline, it seemed like an ideal choice.

For those not familiar with threshold concepts, it’s a framework (some would say theory, some would say concept) that can help us identify and explore the “core concepts that once understood, transform perception of a given subject” (Meyer & Land, 2003).  Threshold concepts are more than just important pieces of knowledge.  They represent a transformed way of thinking about something, an epistemological and ontological shift, a step on the journey from novice to expert.  In the interest of brevity, if you’re interested in learning more, Mick Flanagan maintains an excellent website on the topic.

The questions I’m working with for my study are:
• How do participants in rhizo15 describe their experience of learning in a cMOOC?
– What digital learning ecologies do participants curate and draw upon while participating in rhizo15?

• What threshold concepts for participation in a cMOOC can be identified from the experiences of rhizo15 participants?
– What supports or constrains the navigation of these threshold concepts?
I’m planning three approaches to data collection.

1.  A pre/post-course questionnaire using a combination of closed and open questions.  The pre-course questionnaire will focus on learner characteristics (level of education, background), elements of personal learning ecologies (e.g. familiarity and comfort with technologies, prior connections with others, previous MOOC experience), and expectations for the course (motivations, goals, expected engagement, projected challenges).  The post-course questionnaire would follow up on these topics so that changes over the course can be noted.

2. Observations of the various spaces the course inhabits (Facebook group, Twitter hashtag, P2PU course page, blogs shared by participants…).  I had thought about actively aggregating postings, but I think it would be just as valid (and more palatable to our persnickety research ethics board) if I frame it as ‘naturalistic observation’.  That still allows me to draw on postings as needed but also permits a bit more flexibility in precisely how I approach it and what I collect.

3. Interviews and in-depth analysis of postings from a small number of participants.  I’m hoping to recruit 15-20 people who will allow me to follow them through the course – collecting data from their postings across the course platforms and personal blogs, and participating in an interview at the end of the course.

So that’s the basic plot.  The proposal is still in my supervisors’ hands but it sounds like I only have minor changes to make before it gets the stamp of approval.  I then have to send it through ethics, but again I’m cautiously optimistic they won’t have too much cause for concern (I’m fairly sure I didn’t mention anything about sacrificing participants to the dark gods…).  Hopefully in a couple of months I’ll be up to my ears in research!

(The awesome image in this post comes from here).





4 thoughts on “Research Proposal, v. 2

  1. This looks a fascinating PhD – at last I can see why you would do one – you can actually research something of interest and value. Wow. Who knew? Good luck!

    • Thanks Sandra! I’m hoping it does all come together as planned and has some value (other than simply getting me another official looking piece of paper to hang on my wall!).

  2. Thanks for sharing Ashley – this looks like a fascinating piece of research. Best wishes for its doing – never easy. I think that the use of threshold concepts looks potentially very fruitful – good choice. Jenny Mackness and I did some research on Rhizo and the first paper is out very soon. I expect that we will post a link on the FB group so you should catch it there. In case it is of use, here is a link to our data collection approach and there are more details of our approach/ methodology here

  3. Frances, thanks so much for your compliments and sharing the details of your study. I feel so lucky to be part of a community that is so open, giving, and helpful – it’s so appreciated. 🙂

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