Cyberincivility in the Massive Open Online Course Learning Environment: Data-Mining Study (Preprint)

Journal Article


Cyberincivility is a pervasive issue that demands upfront thinking and can negatively impact one’s personal, professional, social, and educational well-being. Although massive open online courses (MOOCs) environments could be vulnerable to undesirable acts of incivility among students, no study has explored the phenomena of cyberincivility in this learning environment, particularly in a health-related course in which mostly current or eventual health professions students enroll.


This study aimed to analyze the characteristics of text entries posted by students enrolled in a medicine and health care MOOC. The objectives were to (1) examine the prevalence of posts deemed disrespectful, insensitive or disruptive, and inconducive to learning; (2) describe the patterns and types of uncivil posts; and (3) highlight aspects that could be useful for MOOC designers and educators to build a culture of cybercivility in the MOOC environment.


We obtained data from postings in the discussion forums from the MOOC Medical Neuroscience created by a large private university in the southeast region of the United States. After cleaning the dataset, 8705 posts were analyzed, which contained (1) 667 questions that received no responses; (2) 756 questions that received at least one answer; (3) 6921 responses that applied to 756 posts; and (4) 361 responses where the initiating post was unknown. An iterative process of coding, discussion, and revision was conducted to develop a series of a priori codes. Data management and analysis were performed with NVivo 12.


Overall, 19 a priori codes were retained from 25 initially developed, and 3 themes emerged from the data—Annoyance, Disruption, and Aggression. Of 8705 posts included in the analysis, 7333 (84.24%) were considered as the absence of uncivil posts and 1043 (11.98%) as the presence of uncivil posts, while 329 (3.78%) were uncodable. Of 1043 uncivil posts analyzed, 466 were coded to >1 a priori codes, which resulted in 1509 instances. Of those 1509 instances, 826 (54.74%) fell into “annoyance”, 648 (42.94%) into “disruption”, and 35 (2.32%) into “aggression”. Of 466 posts that related to >1 a priori codes, 380 were attributed to 2 or 3 themes. Of those 380 posts, 352 (92.6%) overlapped both “annoyance” and “disruption,” 13 (3.4%) overlapped both “disruption” and “aggression,” and 9 (2.4%) overlapped “annoyance” and “aggression,” while 6 (1.6%) intersected all 3 themes.


This study reports on the phenomena of cyberincivility in health-related MOOCs toward the education of future health care professionals. Despite the general view that discussion forums are a staple of the MOOC delivery system, students cite discussion forums as a source of frustration for their potential to contain uncivil posts. Therefore, MOOC developers and instructors should consider ways to maintain a civil discourse within discussion forums.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • De Gagne, JC; Manturuk, K; Park, HK; Conklin, JL; Wyman Roth, N; Hook, BE; Kulka, JM

Published By

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.2196/preprints.12152