Liminal Participants

Waite, M., Mackness, J., Roberts, G., & Lovegrove, E. (2013). Liminal Participants and Skilled Orienteers: Learner Participation in a MOOC for New Lecturers. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching9(2). Retrieved from

“There was anticipation that many of the target audience (new lecturers) might be MOOC neophytes, so scaffolding strategies to enable interactions with earlier adopters was an important course design consideration. A range of relevant open educational resources (OER) was therefore developed or harvested prior to the start of FSLT12, and integrated into the WordPress site under the heading“Tutorials,” with the specific purpose of presenting guides to acquiring participatory skills.”

“FSLT12 was targeted at new lecturers, Ph.D. students who teach, and people moving into higher education from other sectors. The team anticipated diversity within this group.”

“There were 206 official registrants for FSLT12,”

“upport for interaction was provided through the aggregation of blogs in the WordPress site, through centralized discussion forums in Moodle and through a suggested Twitter hashtag (#fslt), which was used extensively.”

Patterns of engagement

“A review of the current literature has highlighted that there is limited emergent evidence on how participants interact with content and each other within a MOOC. Apparent themes are: multitasking, benefits and risks of openness, digital identity, and communities of practice.”

Multitasking involves utilising numerous, or several platforms to access information. – what Mackness terms backchannels, and are typoically the informal or multiplatofrm/social media connections that participants make between each other, and at times instructors. Mackness suggests ” MOOC organizers can facilitate some of this by providing daily newsletters or summaries of participant activity.”



Geographically diverse, attracted poeple for whom convenience was an issue, digital literates and novices, people established in higeher ed and people new to it.


Twitter hashtag promoted and used extenbsively, moodle and blog aggregation on the central MOOC site

Paper identifies Constructivism, specifying Vygotsky as a locus of theory, also communities pf practice and connectivism

Constructivism – argues that the social aspect, as well as the sharing aspect, and the focus on authentic and  experiential tasks, as well as the collaboration with others to create arefacts are aligned with  constructivist ideals.

Benefits and risks assoc. with openness.

“The less experienced can benefit from expertise beyond the realms of a normal course”, access to educ may be opned up to a larger ausience due to the lack of qualification prerequisites,. Risks involve not having the requisite “critical literacies” – learning autonomously, cohort size can be overwhelming and challenging to make sense of, the norms of cMOOC digital enhgagement can be challenging, though potentially rewarding, for novices.

“The learner is provided with more global connections than a traditional course, exposure to diverse views, and an abundance of resources and sharing of experiential knowledge, but is more likely to participate if there is potential for credit (Chamberlin & Parish, 2011).”

“Participation can be either enhanced or inhibited by learner digital identity – for example, the difference between having a confident voice within digital worlds compared to feeling that you have nothing worthwhile to contribute, and the role of participant as knowledge builder may feel alien to some learners (McAuley et al., 2010).”

“novices felt initially overwhelmed by technical issues, multiple channels, and a need to be able to multitask, which required too many initial participatory skills incorporating ”

“It changed my learner identities from confidence and experienced to not having a clue and feeling like a novice” (Focus group).”

“Some registrants of FSLT12 who did not actively participate cited personal circumstances that impacted on time and commitment, but others said: “I didn’t know how to participate” (Survey), and “I did try but I was intimidated by the depth of the posts and my newness to higher education” (Survey”

“The expert lens of experienced participants recognized that it is challenging to engage MOOC newcomers, and an important skill is to support novices to cope with multi-channel working. One participant observed that “those that are lost are missing out on an important new literacy” (Focus group).”

The study gathered clear feedback that students would have valued more peer support, and a sense that such support was, in hinbdsight, available.

Learner Interaction with Content in FSLT12


Reflective Practice – viewed by some as a tool to aid thoughtful engagement, and active participants, it seems, tended to use this tool. Blogging was a typical example.

Learner Interaction with One Another

“Survey responses suggested that active participants used the following channels to interact with each other: posting to discussion forums, responding to blog posts, attending synchronous sessions, and a face-to-face meeting entitled “MOOCup,” which had been arranged via Twitter.”

Two themes in the interaction identified.

  • Making sense of community for novices and experts.

Finding out who the experts are and who the novices are. Joininmg the community gave confidence, and allowed people to see what constituted community behaviors. Survey respondents were all new to online teaching, and many offered appreciative comments, as it allowed them to see how online tools could be used fore teaching.

“The synchronous sessions and individual blogs were important participatory areas for FSLT12, but the main thrust of observed participant interaction in FSLT12 occurred in the discussion forums”

  • Reciprocal relationships                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Focus group interviewees identified the diversity of other participants as an important aspect of learning.  Individuals pinted to shared pro experiences and best practices amongst peers as positives.

The paper posits the transformative aspects of throeshold concepts – “which means that once knowledge is understood an aspect of a practice or discipline will be transformed, irreversibly, and the learner will have crossed conceptual boundaries and have a changed discourse or identity.” a context often predecessed by troublesome knowledge.

“Learning in a cMOOC takes place over distributed platforms and in an abundance of information that many learners find overwhelming. Learners therefore need to develop skills of finding relevant information and become adept at filtering, picking and choosing information relevant to personal learning. High levels of critical capability (Kop & Bouchard, 2011” representing the troublesome knowledge required for some in a cMOOC.

Overall, the paper identifies the fulcrum of digital literacy as a key component of cMOOC engagement, acknowledging that some participants found the multitude of platorms, autonomous learning requiremnyts, and technical proficiencies required to be daunting. They acknokeldge the important role that experts play, and model digital novices difficulties as those involved in mastering a threshold concept. The concept may, if masters, radically alter an aspect of the studen;ts practice, but the mastery is preceded by troublesome knowledge – a difficult, arduous, and counter-intuitive process.

The paper acknowledges that centralised locations for knowledge helped, noted that assessment seemed to correlate in some instances with increased engagement, and note that interconnectedness of participants and reflective practice via blogging were key themes for learning in the mooc.

Participants benefitted from seeing that they could pick and choose their topics, and felt, with hindsight that they could have made more of the learning opportunities afforded by access to expert peers, by asking, somnething perhaps to be explicitly encouraged, amongst both peers and novices.



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