【Research Proposal】Facilitation in large-scale online learning environment: a MOOC-based research (M1 ZHOU Qiaochu)

Hi everyone! This is Qiaochu. I just narrowed down and adjusted the focus of my research from community to facilitation in MOOCs. And here is how it develops.

1. Introduction
Online learning has become increasingly important in educating a wide variety of learners. The approaches include, first, MOOC (massive open online course) which integrates social networking, seasoned experts, and course-specific learning materials that are readily available to students. However, with the prosperity of MOOCs since 2012, many practices have indicated the necessity of effective facilitation in the context of large-scale online learning environment. Key factors as massive number of learners, highly asynchronous nature and community learning context all challenge the conventional instruments from the facilitator's side. While the practice of MOOCs has already achieved huge innovation in education field with the ever-updated technology and platform support, there are much white space left to be done as for the facilitation in MOOCs. This research, then, will discuss the facilitation in large-scale online learning environment from the perspective of MOOCs.

2. Literature review
Regarding the emergence of MOOCs, there used to be the division of cMOOCs and xMOOCs, the former underpinned by connectivist principles (Comier, 2008) and the latter by behaviorism. The importance of teacher or facilitation is considered differently in this categorization. However, it appears that the development of MOOCs has been influence by a combination of theoretical perspectives such as constructivism, connectivism, and concept of CoP (Community of Practice, Wenger, 1998; Hrastinski, 2008).

While pedagogies may vary in the design of MOOCs, many scholars support strengthening the initiative of MOOCs participants. Learning issues like identity, interaction, community learning, technological support, and efficiency of online learning are put forward in succession. Holmberg (1989), first sought to understand the role of emotional support and connection in online learning by espousing the empathy theory, while Cheng (2014) also confirmed the importance of social connection and empathy among online learners. Ryberg and Christiansen (2008) researched community and social network sites as technology enhanced the learning environment. Kop, Fournier, and Mak (2011) examined the mutual support among learners by creating Facebook and Twitter groups outside of the MOOC classroom as a means of peer support.

After the initial boom of MOOCs, researchers began to reflect on the role of facilitation in this kind of large-scale online learning environment. One crucial point made by Yang et al. (2013) is that in MOOCs the learner participation in social activities is intermittent. Meanwhile, Brinton et al. (2013) early interactions can amass to a level of chaos which may impede an individual's propensity for developing relationships. From those researches, it is evident that the social engagement and technological advancement can not guarantee the sustainability of MOOCs. While emphasizing the learner-focused pedagogy, the teacher's role, here the facilitation in large-scale online learning environment, is indispensable. Problems always come as "what will happen to students who are not self-determined and skilled? what if students lack in participatory literacy?" etc. Focusing on the facilitation issue, Beaven et al. (2014) explored the balance between facilitation and self-determination of MOOCs learners from a MOOC OT12. Later, Poquet, Dawson, and Dowell (2017) discussed the effectiveness of facilitation in MOOC forums from the view of group-level analysis. On the other hand, research of Ross et al. (2014) views the issue of facilitation from the stance of teacher by exploring their experience and academic identity in MOOCs.

3. Research questions
In view of this background, the research questions are as follows and will focus on the focus one:
RQ1: What kind of presence of facilitation will possibly feature a more appropriate form for MOOCs to promote learning?
RQ2: Where is the balance between facilitation and self-determination/ self-directed learning?
RQ3: How to promote facilitation regarding the discrepancies in nature of different MOOCs? For example, the knowledge-oriented and information-oriented MOOCs.

4. Methods
Mixed research methods of both quantitative and qualitative will be used for the research. Based on case study, two representative MOOC courses will be selected, the knowledge-oriented and information-oriented ones. The current facilitation and output in learning of each type will be analyzed and made comparison ultimately.

First, the MOOC course of "Studying at Japanese Universities" by the University of Tokyo on Coursera will be researched as the information-oriented case with the permission of administrators. For the quantitative research part, facilitations mainly in forms of discussion forum and Facebook page will be observed and made content analysis. Also, backstage data of users' activeness and interaction in MOOC community will give insights about learning efficiency. For the qualitative research part, the research plans to conduct interviews with facilitators of the MOOC mentioned above and retrieve information from their comments on the discussion forum.

Later, another MOOC course representing the knowledge-oriented type will be chosen to make further comparison. Meanwhile, participant observation will be adopted along all the research process. This means to participate in the researched MOOCs myself and observe participants' behavior and the facilitation offered.

5. Significance of research
Large-scale online learning environments as MOOCs have numerous advantages and potential, especially if the weaknesses that accompany them can be appropriately addressed. By reflecting and repositioning the role of facilitation in MOOCs, improved pedagogical approaches are expected to refresh the education landscape.