Cunningham defends dissertation

Doctoral candidate Paige Cunningham successfully defended her dissertation, "Exploring Communication Patterns in Massive Open Online Courses," on May 6.

Her committee included Professor Linda C. Smith, Chair and Director of Research; Professor Michael Twidale; Teaching Assistant Professor Martin Wolske; and Director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL) Data Analytics Maryalice Wu.

From the abstract: This study examines how and why participants in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered by the University of Illinois on the Coursera MOOC platform communicated with each other, community mentors, and/or instructors, which in-course and Web 2.0 tools they used most frequently, and what the instructors’ expectations for communication were. It looks at which types of communication tools course participants and instructors found most and least useful, as well as whether course participants' goals for the course, the subject matter of the course, and/or course access options affected participants' communication needs and patterns. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eleven course participants and five course instructors, while over 2600 course participants from ten courses completed a survey about their experiences with communication. Analysis indicates that course participants most often communicated with others outside the course before other participants, community mentors, and finally instructors, but most valued communication with instructors; yet instructors currently have limited contact with the courses. While not all participants want or value communication within the course, making the course space more supportive of communal engagement would help support online learning processes, encourage persistence, and build success.

Cunningham will have the opportunity to continue with related research as a postdoctoral research associate working with Wu and others in the CITL Data Analytics group at Illinois.

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