Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Massive Courses Meet Local Communities: An Ethnography of Open Education Learning Circles
by Damasceno, Cristiane Sommer, Ph.D., North Carolina State University, 2017, 194; 10610660
Abstract (Summary)

The new movement towards openness in education emerged in the 90s, inspired by the open source software trend (Yuan, Maceill, Kraan, 2008). UNESCO coined the term OER, or open educational resources, during a forum in 2002 (Ferreira, 2012; Gaskell, 2009). Since then, several stakeholders - higher education institutions, scholars, activists, non-profit organizations, among others - helped to spread the OER concept across the globe. The OER movement has at its core the ideal of democratizing access to education; however, there are few empirical studies looking at how individuals are appropriating these open educational resources in informal learning settings. Thus, this dissertation approaches conversations about the limits and possibilities of OER through an ethnography of the Learning Circles project carried out by the Peer 2 Peer University and the Chicago Public Library (USA). Learning Circles are face-to-face study groups for people who want to take massive open online courses together. This project is particularly interesting because it attracts an audience that does not necessarily have easy access to digital tools nor experience with online learning. Thus, Learning Circles contemplates the digital divide, one of the biggest challenges of the OER movement.

In my explorations of the Learning Circles, I asked four research questions: 1) How do interactions between project coordinators, facilitators, students, OERs, and digital technologies inform Learning Circles?; 2) What features of Learning Circles support or detract from students’ participation in their groups? 3) What characterizes students’ and facilitators’ participation in the Learning Circles?; 4) How do students and facilitators appropriate open educational resources and digital technologies in their learning processes? My findings suggest Learning Circles opened new pathways for adult learners by easing digital divides, offering a supportive learning environment, stimulating intellectual autonomy, and favoring the exchange of competencies among novices.

I built my research questions on a literature review about the OER movement and the Learning Circles project; a conceptual framework grounded in social theory of learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998), combined with notions of space, society, communication, technology, power, and agency emergent from the work of scholars in the fields of communication, cultural studies, and science/technology studies (Carey, 1975, 2008; Castells,1998, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2010, 2013; de Souza e Silva, 2006; Foucault, 1982; Latour, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2005; Slack & Wise, 2014). I employed an ethnography that combined embodied and virtual observations, semi-structured interviews, and artifact collection. I used the constant comparison method (Glaser, 1965) to analyze my data.

Finally, in my conclusion chapter, I argued that Learning Circles increased students’ agency as self-guided learners. As a consequence, they also increased these learners’ chances of joining other communities, such as a higher educational setting, distinct study groups, new jobs, etc. Learning Circles is an evolving initiative, and project coordinators need to make sure they support volunteers and foster meaningful interactions in the study groups. It is not likely that Learning Circles will substitute traditional Higher Ed institutions, but their model can integrate a networked educational model for the 21st century.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Daniels, Deanna P.
School: North Carolina State University
Department: Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media
School Location: United States -- North Carolina
Source: DAI-A 78/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Communication, Adult education
Keywords: Communities of practice, Digital cultures, Ethnography, MOOCs, Open education
Publication Number: 10610660
ISBN: 9781369855432