Bodong Chen

Crisscross Landscapes

Notes: Zheng. (2016). The role of social media in MOOCs



Citekey: @Zheng2016

Zheng, S., Han, K., Rosson, M. B., & Carroll, J. M. (2016). The role of social media in MOOCs. In Proceedings of the Third (2016) ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale - L@S ’16 (pp. 419–428). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. doi:10.11452876034.2876047


A nice paper investigating social media (more specifically Facebook groups) in three MOOCs. The key findings include that FB is a better place for social engagement, and students feel more connected, behave better, and interact more in FB. These claims are supported by both (quite simple) stats and interviews with students and teachers.

One interesting thing reported in this paper is that discussions on FB are mostly initiated by the instructors (and therefore represents better pedagogical supports for discussion). This observation tends to contradict with my earlier assumption that FB better supports student-initiated discussions. Potentially interesting for future investigation.



diverse motivations, which lead to a variety of learning behaviors and innovative uses of MOOCs [13, 24]. (p. 1)

to meet social needs (e.g., make friends) rather than to learn per se 13, 24

there is a lack of (1) empirical studies of social media use and engagement compared to embedded MOOC forums; and (2) rationales for social media use from both instructors’ and students’ perspectives. We addressed these open issues through the collection and analysis of real usage data from three MOOC forums and their associated social media (i.e., Facebook) groups as well as conducting interviews of instructors and students. We found that students show higher engagement and retention in social media than in MOOC forums, and identified both instructors’ and students’ perspectives that lead to the results. (p. 1)

there is little support for social activities 25

To cultivate an active learning environment, MOOC instructors have often recruited a variety of external tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google plus, etc. into their MOOCs [24, 26, 29]. (p. 1)

We applied quantitative and qualitative methods through the analysis of usage log data of three MOOCs from Coursera and each MOOC’s Facebook groups. (p. 1)

although there were more people enrolled and more posts shared in Coursera relative to the smaller group of people who joined the Facebook groups, when it comes to user engagement, Facebook was a more attractive place for them to stay actively and longer. Our interviews with students highlight four main reasons of why they prefer to use Facebook — a real community in Facebook, instructor imitated discussion forum, a better collaborative place, and more convenient to communicate with others. Our interviews with instructors unveil four main motivations of using Facebook from their perspectives — enhancing student retention and engagement, cultivating a sense of community, advertising their MOOCs, and being creative. (p. 2)


METHOD (p. 2)

Official Facebook Group (also used as Facebook) is Facebook group constructed by MOOC instructors or/and teaching assistants. (p. 2)

Data Analysis (p. 3)

Data and Data Collection Our data include three types. The first type is student usage data on Coursera of three different MOOCs. The usage data consists of click stream data, which documented students’ all posting activities (e.g., posts, comments, and votes) on Coursera and the time of each activity occurs. (p. 3)

The second type is student usage data from three official Facebook groups (p. 3)

For qualitative data (i.e., interviews), we use thematic analysis and grounded theory (p. 3)

The third type is the interview data from instructors and students of the three MOOCs (p. 3)

RESULTS (p. 3)

Engagement in posting activities (p. 3)

much fewer people joined Facebook than Coursera (p. 3)

people tended to add more comments for each post in Facebook than Coursera as well as much more Likes for each post in Facebook than Votes in Coursera, showing higher engagement in social media (p. 4)

Engagement over time (p. 4)

For the last measurement on engagement, we took the timestamps in the posts, calculated the number of posts for each day, and plotted a ratio of engagement by day. (p. 4)

Here we defined engaged users who shared posts, comments, or votes in Coursera or Likes in Facebook at least once (if not more than once) during the course. (p. 4)

As illustrated in Figure 2, we can see that the engagement in Coursera significantly dropped (especially well exhibited in Arts and CIC) after two or three weeks. (p. 4)

engagement decreased more rapidly in Coursera (p < 0.001) than in Facebook (p. 4)

Students’ Perspective: Learning Experiences between Facebook and Coursera (p. 5)

We have generated 4 themes that students made the comparisons between Facebook and Coursera forum based on their experiences. (p. 5)

A Real Community in Facebook (p. 5)

In Facebook, they know some “real” amazing people, have follow up conversations and discussions, gain more quick feedback and attentions, and also have fun moments, all of which are hard to find in Coursera forum. (p. 5)

Trust would be hard to build in this case. (p. 5)

when it comes to a level of engagement, Facebook seems a more attractive place to stay longer and engage more. (p. 5)

Coursera did not provide a course roster; thus, it is hard to maintain a conversation or a friendship there. (p. 5)

From these empirical results, we were motivated to study the following questions: Does social media play different or unique roles in making people more engaged in an online course compared to official forums? Can we identify some of those elements from social media and think about a better approach to enhance students’ retention, which will be both beneficial for instructors and students? (p. 5)

our participants believe Coursera is just a short-term place (p. 5)

Better Place for Collaboration in Facebook (p. 6)

they build their own private groups on Facebook. (p. 6)

More Convenient to Communicate with Others in Facebook (p. 6)

convenient access is a big factor they visit Facebook group more than Coursera (p. 6)

Instructors/TAs Initialed Discussion in Facebook (p. 6)

But it is very difficult to have conversations with the instructor on Coursera. (p. 6)

On the other hand, in Facebook, instructors or TAs usually initiate posts first and students could have comments under the post. (p. 6)

nstructors’ Perspective (p. 7)

Motivations (p. 7)

Improving Retention and Engagement (p. 7)

Being Creative (p. 7)

The enemy of creativity, according to Robinson, is standardization [20]. MOOCs today rely heavily on standardized tests because the massive scale makes personalized learning impossible. Our instructors believe this is not an ideal way to teach students. They hope students can understand divergent thinking and seek multiple answers to a problem. (p. 7)

Cultivating a Sense of Community (p. 7)

Perceptions (p. 7)

More Positive Feelings in Facebook (p. 7)

a more friendly environment in Facebook (p. 7)

but in Coursera, complains and rude words frequent appear (p. 7)

Advertising the Course (p. 7)

More like a community in Facebook (p. 7)

Affordances of Facebook provide students a relatively trusting environment and foster more interactions between students, thus helping them to form a healthy community – all of which are lacking in Coursera. (p. 8)

Chaos Discussion Forum in Coursera (p. 8)

for example, each week’s topic has a separate space to discuss. However, the structure is hard to maintain (p. 8)

Besides, the design of forum is unaesthetic, even instructors consider the design is boring (p. 8)

“You cannot imagine how painful I was when I tried to look through the comments. The design of the forum is very boring, especially when I need to go through so many comments… Also, the structure of the forum is chaos. I need to answer the same question repeatedly in different threads. Why don’t pull them together?” Instructor 4


Teaching Presence in MOOCs (p. 8)

In Facebook, all posts were initiated by the instructors and the students made comments to the posts. In contrast, the posts in Coursera were primarily student-initiated. (p. 8)

Thus, we should consider how to gain inspiration from Facebook for the better design of Coursera forums. (p. 8)

On the other hand, this also demonstrates the involvement of instructors and TAs is important to make the forum popular and reliable. (p. 8)

Social Presence in MOOCs (p. 8)

Future work could explore learning and social behaviors of different groups of students (Facebook user VS. non-Facebook user; heavy Facebook user VS. light Facebook user, etc). (p. 9)

Pedagogy Matters (p. 9)

One of the big differences between the two communication spaces is that in Facebook, instructors design/select the outline of the discussion topics and lead the discussion but in Coursera, the forum is student initiated and develops on its own. The results demonstrated that discussions need to be pedagogically designed. (p. 9)

I do not totally follow the conclusions made here. On the one hand, the authors were accusing discussion forums of being boring. On other hand, they prefer teacher-initiated discussions on FB. I understand those two are not about the same thing, but more elaboration between them could be helpful. (p. 9)

Zheng, S. Rosson, M. B., Shih, P. C. and Carroll, J. M. 2015. Understanding Student Motivation, Behaviors and Perceptions in MOOCs, In Proc CSCW. (p. 10)

Kizilcec,R.F.,Piech,C.andSchneider,E.2013. Deconstructing disengagement: analyzing learner subpopulations in massive open online courses. In Proc LAK.170-179. (p. 10)

Kop, R. Fournier, P., Sui, J., and Mak, F. 2011. A pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant Support on Massive Open Online Courses. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 12(7), 74–93. (p. 10)