A Data Analysis of the #MOOC Research Initiative
From The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL)
By Dragan Gašević, Vitomir Kovanović, Srećko Joksimović, George Siemens
This paper reports on the results of an analysis of the research proposals submitted to the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) funded by the Gates Foundation and administered by Athabasca University. The goal of MRI was to mobilize researchers to engage into critical interrogation of MOOCs. The submissions – 266 in Phase 1, out of which 78 was recommended for resubmission in the extended form in Phase 2, and finally, 28 funded – were analyzed by applying conventional and automated content analysis methods as well as citation network analysis methods. The results revealed the main research themes that could form a framework of the future MOOC research: i) student engagement and learning success, ii) MOOC design and curriculum, iii) self-regulated learning and social learning, iv) social network analysis and networked learning, and v) motivation, attitude and success criteria. The theme of social learning received the greatest interest and had the highest success in attracting funding. The submissions that planned on using learning analytics methods were more successful. The use of mixed methods was by far the most popular. Design-based research methods were also suggested commonly, but the questions about their applicability arose regarding the feasibility to perform multiple iterations in the MOOC context and rather a limited focus on technological support for interventions. The submissions were dominated by the researchers from the field of education (75% of the accepted proposals). Not only was
this a possible cause of a complete lack of success of the educational technology innovation theme, but it could be a worrying sign of the fragmentation in the research community and the need to increased efforts towards enhancing interdisciplinarity.
Much of the early research into MOOCs has been in the form of institutional reports by early MOOC projects, which offered many useful insights, but did not have the rigor – methodological and/or theoretical expected for peer-reviewed publication in online learning and education (Belanger & Thornton, 2013; McAuley, Stewart, Siemens, & Cormier, 2010). Recently, some peer reviewed articles have explored the experience of learners (Breslow et al., 2013; Kizilcec, Piech, & Schneider, 2013; Liyanagunawardena, Adams, & Williams, 2013). In order to gain an indication of the direction of MOOC research and representativeness of higher education as a whole, we explored a range of articles and sources. We settled on using the MOOC Research Initiative as our dataset.
MOOC Research Initiative (MRI)
The MOOC Research Initiative was an $835,000 grant funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and administered by Athabasca University. The primary goal of the initiative was to increase the availability and rigor of research around MOOCs. Specific topic areas that the MRI initiative targeted included: i) student experiences and outcomes; ii) cost, performance metrics and learner analytics; iii) MOOCs: policy and systemic impact; and iv) alternative MOOC formats. Grants in the range of $10,000 to $25,000 were offered. An open call was announced in June 2013. The call for submissions ran in two phases: 1. Short overviews of 2 pages of proposed research including significant citations; 2. Full research submissions, 8 pages with influential citations, invited from the first phase. All submissions were peer reviewed and managed in Easy Chair. The timeline for the grants, once awarded, was intentionally short in order to quickly share MOOC research. MRI was not structured to provide a full research cycle as this process runs multiple years. Instead, researchers were selected who had an existing dataset that required resources for proper analysis. Phase one resulted in 266 submissions. Phase two resulted in 78 submissions. A total of 28 grants were funded. The content of the proposals and the citations included in each of the phases were the data source for the research activities detailed below.
In this paper, we report the findings of an exploratory study in which we investigated (a) the themes in the MOOC research emerging in the MRI proposals; (b) research methods commonly proposed for use in the proposals submitted to the MRI initiative, (c) demographics (educational background and geographic location) characteristics of the authors who participated in the MRI initiative; (d) most-influential authors and references cited in the proposals submitted in the MRI initiative; and (e) the factors that were associated with the success of proposals to be accepted for funding in the MRI initiative..
In order to address the research objectives defined in the previous section, we adopted the Content Analysis and Citation Network Analysis research methods…
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