25 Feb

My mini-ethnographic artefact

As I was studying a MOOC on computer programming, I thought it appropriate to write my artefact as a (very basic!) piece of software.

I was thinking of making this program available to download.  However, this would require people to first install python 3.2 and then learn the basics of running programs using the python interface (IDLE)

So, I decided to run the program on my own computer, screencast it and then upload the video onto YouTube.

Drawing on some of the themes from Block 1, I’ve tried to make the program resemble a ‘conversation’ between a person and a computer; one that is at times characterised by awkwardness and faux pas.

As you watch the film, you’ll see there are links to a couple of other webpages, which may be difficult to copy and paste from Youtube, so I’ve included them below the film:


Link 1: Students’ responses to my discussion thread post (before it was taken down)

Link 2: The ‘where are you from’ discussion board

Link 3: The interactive MOOC map

13 thoughts on “My mini-ethnographic artefact

  1. Great artefact Nick – I really like the way you’ve ‘mocked up’ an AI to present the work for you – very clever and a nice choice of thematic soundtrack too.

    Your findings are interesting, and it’s a slight frustration of the constrainedness of this task that you weren’t able to say more about them, or write around them a bit more. It’d give some good insight to be able to do a comparison of different MOOCs’ emphasis on geography and physical location – my hunch is that participants’ geo-locating themselves is quite common within MOOCspace, but I don’t have any data to hand on this point. Jeremy may want to come in here, as he’s done some terrific work on the ways in which visual mappings of MOOCs works to exercise a kind of ‘colonising’ tendency – the world ‘made visible’ by the engagement of MOOC learners.

    One point for clarification: when you talk about ‘digital infrastructure’ shaping modes of communication and community formation, do you mean in terms of things like the mapping – ie the fact that the MOOC organisers piloted a mapping tool made the participants connect in a particular way? I think this is absolutely right, but I wondered whether there were any other examples of this in the Python MOOC, that you might be able to describe?

    • Hi Sian
      Many thanks and yes digital infrastructure, I suppose I was referring to the things like the visual map, pre-stratified discussion boards, priority badging for when a tutor enters the conversation etc. I can see why Jeremy finds this such a research area for research! Yes would have loved to have gone on and explored further but was a very useful insight into MOOC delivery — far more so than just reading about it! :-)

  2. What an original and humorous way of presenting your ethnography, Nick!

    The participants on the Gamification course I researched also geo-located themselves and then organised themselves into study groups, mainly based on nationality. As Sian says it would be great to have some data on this aspect of community building.

    • Thanks Clare!
      Yes I found that interesting in your MOOC too. Did you get a sense of whether it came from the participants or from the course organisers?

  3. What an imaginative presentation format! I love how you used programming code and the decision points in a programming flowchart to mimic a conversation with the female AI — and you even imbued the AI with personality, and in fact agency, because the AI determines how much of the ethnographic account is revealed and in what order. Very posthuman.

    Course design affects how people interact with each other, were there no course activities or exercises that moved people to engage with each other? Does this mean that participants interacted mostly with the tutors (and how did the tutors manage such a large volume of participants) or the course material itself?

    • Cheers Ed!
      Yeah wanted to try and apply some of the themes from the first Block into the delivery of the artefact. Yes indeed, participants were very passive and looked almost exclusively to the tutor and pre-scripted activities. Very much like 100k spokes on a wheel with the tutor at the centre!

  4. This is a fantastic snapshot Nick! As already noted, its a really clever coming together of form and function, the programme reflecting the topic of the MOOC studied. And highly engaging!

    Super observation about the map constructing the community in a particular way. I’ve looked at lots of these maps generated from MOOC data, and they are usually framed in terms of ‘locating’ or ‘discovery’ the community, with little acknowledgement of their role in shaping the form of the community, or indeed learning subjects within it. As Sian commented, I’ve found this to be a really interesting part of so many MOOCs, almost an obsession with mapping participation, and the conviction that this *is* global education.

    This relates really well to your critique of Kozinets. This instrumentalising of technology is again something I’ve found quite prevalent in the MOOC; viewing the technology as a passive or neutral tool for connecting learners with course content, or each other. What is much less common are considerations of the ways that particular facets of the technology itself work to construct and limit different form of community. It might have been good to suggest some other elements that might have done this, alongside the maps.

    This point also links nicely with the comments you made about the Stewart (2013) paper. Could it also be that the design of the MOOC platforms themselves can limit and restrict community interaction, alongside the pedagogical strategy?

    • Hi Jeremy,
      Many thanks for your comments and I’m looking forward to reading your paper on MOOCs this week in light of this! I’m fascinated by the ‘behind the scenes’ aspects of MOOC interaction and how this is managed. Yes I would have liked to have collected and discussed more data. Unfortunately I ran out of time :-(

  5. Nick, ingenious presentation! I should think that the Python Computer Programming MOOC organizers would be impressed. Did you expose this artefact to participants in the MOOC? I’m interesting is whether you did or not, and rationale for your decision. The discordant music score was not my usual ‘cup of tea,’ but I think it was appropriate and well-chosen for this pseudo-programming representation. Cheers, PJ

    • Thanks PJ!
      That’s a really good idea and something that I didn’t do. Whilst I’ve been semi-banned from the Discussion Board, I’m tempted to put the link up and invite MOOC participants across to comment on Youtube. Music gets a bit loud in places – I was a committed Radiohead fan in my youth and some habits die hard 😉

  6. Hi Nick, very interesting platform for delivering your ethographic study! I have never heard of Python before and the different ways you can use it, but you certainly give me some ideas on how I could have done mine differently by using other tools.

    • Thanks Ben!
      Yes it’s an awesome language! So much easier than things like C++ and can start programming within a couple of hours :-)

  7. Hi Nick, I really enjoyed your artefact- a suitably designed voice and ethno-narrative/message. I blogged some comments in my Lifestream. Thanks.

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