(Mis)understanding MOOCs: Discourse networks, antagonism, and the structuring of networked media

Open Access
Grace, Rob Robert
Graduate Program:
Information Sciences and Technology
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
October 06, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Frederico T Fonseca, Thesis Advisor
  • online discussion forums
  • MOOC
  • online discourse
  • user-generated content
As with many technologies, the public reception of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has not been without conflict. Alternatively praised as the salvation of higher education or loathed as the figure of its ultimate degradation, the hyperbole characterizing discussion of MOOCs nevertheless marks the seriousness by which people have argued over what should be understood as a MOOC, and what they mean for a global system of higher education. This thesis analyzes the discourse network emerging at a prominent point of impact in these discussions: the online discussion forums of The Chronicle of Higher Education over the first two years following the public introduction of MOOCs. Like many networks, these discussion forums are riven by asymmetries of participation: a few contribute much while the majority little. Focusing on the frequencies of participation among actors involved in these forums and the disproportionate practices of production and distribution they enact, this analysis asks: How do discursive practices vary between frequent and infrequent participants to the forums, and how do these frequencies of practice contribute to processes structuring online discourse? Conducting a case study of the online discussion forums, a grounded approach first explores the discourses and antagonisms, points of incongruity within the discussions, articulated within the forums. Through content analysis, these are then explored in relation to the interactive, rhetorical and articulatory practices of the most frequent and infrequent participants. Conclusions drawn point to inverse tendencies for interaction within the forum, with the most frequent participants directly engaging other participants in points of antagonism and, as a sociotechnical process, constructing durable media configurations structuring the online discussion threads.