Dissertation Proposal

Dissertation Proposal Title:
“Exploring Communication Patterns in Massive Open Online Courses”

Dissertation Proposal Defense/Qualifying Exam Result: Passed
Completion of Field Exam: Fall, 2017
Expected Completion of Dissertation: Spring, 2019


Over the past five years, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been promoted as a way to increase international access to education, through the promulgation of free or low-fee short courses on specific topics. This has now transitioned into the University of Illinois also using a MOOC platform as a basis for three degree programs. Yet all forms of online distance education have some significant potential drawbacks for students, such as limitations to communication abilities, feelings of separation from instructors and peers, and an increased likelihood of dropping out. New technologies have arisen, however, that make these challenges easier to surmount.

My research builds on the existing educational informatics research on the role of communication in online education, specifically examining how participants in MOOC courses offered by universities on the Coursera MOOC platform may be impacted by various forms of communication, including both in-course and Web 2.0 tools. My research will explore: 1) How course participants communicate with each other, community mentors, and/or instructors, which tools they use most frequently, and what the “course expectations” for communication are. 2) Which types of communication tools, whether internal or external to the course platform, course participants, community mentors, and instructors find most and least beneficial and why. 3) Whether the subject matter of the course impacts participants’ communication needs and patterns, and if so, how. 4) Whether requiring payment for full participation in a course impacts the level and type of communication. Understanding the answers to these questions can help to determine how best to support online learning processes, encourage persistence, and build success.

Dissertation Proposal Defense Presentation: