My AERA 2013 conference notes

I cannot guarantee the accuracy of my conference notes - read at your own risk!

Exploring Online Discussions

April 29 at 8:15 AM - 10:15 AM

Parc 55, Level 3: Parc 55, Powell II

Tracks: SIG-Online Teaching and Learning

About (pasted from AERA 2013 program)

This session includes papers that explore online discussion from a variety of perspectives.


  • Clare M. Brett, University of Toronto
  • Daniel Zingaro, University of Toronto
  • Murat Oztok, University of Toronto
  • Alyssa F. Wise, Simon Fraser University
  • Kui Xie, The Ohio State University
  • Craig D. Howard, Indiana University - Bloomington
  • Zhen Niu Low, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Nicole J. Tavares, University of Hong Kong
  • Liping Deng, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Vivienne Ming, University of California - Berkeley
  • Norma Ming, Nexus Research & Policy Center
  • Simone Nicole Hausknecht, Simon Fraser University
  • Yuting Zhao, Simon Fraser University
  • Chien Yu, Mississippi State University

Connecting Students’ Listening and Speaking Behaviors in Asynchronous Online Discussions

(Alyssa F. Wise & Yuting Zhao) Alyssa F. Wise Simon Fraser University

Abstract (pasted from AERA 2013 program)

This study investigated relationships between how students “listen” (access existing posts) and “speak” (contribute posts) in asynchronous online discussions. Eleven variables indexing four dimensions of student’s listening (breadth, depth, temporal contiguity and revisitation) and five variables indexing three dimensions of students’ speaking (discursiveness, depth of content, and reflectivity) were calculated for 31 students participating in six week-long online discussions as part of an undergraduate educational psychology course. Multiple regression analysis indicated that the breadth of students’ listening (the percentage of peers’ posts viewed) predicted both the responsiveness and argumentative quality of their posts, but the depth with which they attended to the posts (time spent viewing) did not. Implications for the theory and practice of online discussions are discussed.


How do students listen (read posts) and speak (contribute) in synchronous online discussions

  • Listening : taking in externalizations of others by processing existing posts
  • Speaking : externalizing one's own ideas

Student online “listening” patterns

  • Breadth isn't always good (related to speaking)

Dimensions of speaking quality

  • Lots of content analysis schemes
  • Alyssa found 3 common dimensions :
  1. Discursivity
  2. Content
  3. Reflectivity


dimensions looked at:

  1. Breadth (amount of posts read)
  2. Depth (time spent reading)
  3. Temporal contiguity
  4. Revisitation (re-reads)

Was fully online course, ed psychology

Log file data (time spent reading, scanning, posting)

Content analysis

Large #of posts was overwhelming for students, suggests should put students in smaller groups

Depth is more important than breadth for argumentation

Conclusions & future work

  • There's value in depth and revisitation
  • Have developed a new online discussion interface to facilitate increased depth (are they scripting)?
  • Using a LAK framework to feedback to students
  • look at smaller grain size to examine the relationships

Faculty tools for visualising online class discussion (Norma Ming & Vivienne Ming)

Norma Ming Nexus Research & Policy Center

Vivienne Ming neuraltheory@gmail.comUniversity of California - Berkeley

Abstract (pasted from AERA 2013 program)

We present a series of visualizations of online discussions that combine topic modeling with other dimensions of the discussion contributions, to support faculty in assessing and improving learning from discussions. After applying probabilistic latent semantic analysis (pLSA) to calculate the relative conceptual distance between discussion posts, we projected posts or collections of posts into a two-dimensional space. By color-coding points according to their temporal position in the course or according to the author’s final grade, we captured patterns in students’ contributions that connect the topic modeling factors to more intuitively familiar characteristics regarding the quality of the ideas expressed. We discuss the potential for faculty to utilize such visualizations and outline future work to develop these tools further.


Goal: visualize semantic content to guide faculty intervention

  • Topic modelling (patterns of word co-occurance)


  • Whole-class online discussions
  • 5 week course
  • Only looked at student postings, not instructors


  • pLSA (probabilistic latent semantic analysis)
  • Project posts into 100-D topic space
  • Use LLE (local linear embedding) to reduce to 2-D


  • Higher achievers' notes move towards the periphery
  • Lower achieving students' notes stay


  • Higher grades: write about specific topics

From Moodle to Facebook: Exploring Students’ Motivation for Online Discussion (Liping Deng & Nicole J. Tavares)

Hong Kong Baptist University

Liping Deng Hong Kong Baptist University

Nicole J. Tavares tavaresn@hku.hkUniversity of Hong Kong

Abstract (pasted from AERA 2013 program)

The present paper reports on a qualitative study that examines the motivating and inhibiting factors influencing students’ engagement with online discussion via Moodle and Facebook. The data was collected through individual interviews with 14 preservice teachers. Using the Activity Theory as a lens, the study unfolds a set of factors covering the technical tools, subjective perceptions, goals of online discussion, social presence within a community, rules for participation, and roles of the participants. The findings inform educators of how to promote online discussion among students, and guide software designers in creating a web-based system more conducive to learning.


Preservice teacher education Nicole is the course instructor Online discussion is optional, wants students to do so without pressure from instructor


  • Student interviews
  • Forum posts
  • Facebook postings (selected by students)


  • Used Activity Theory framework for analysis
  • 4 major perspectives : interface, functionality, users' habit
  • Students see Facebook as easy to access, part of their daily lives, natural, immediacy, spontaneous, everyone is there, newsfeed, is “their” space, casual, free
  • Students see moodle as difficult to use, they hate it, nobody is there, feel is monitored by teacher (despite discussion not being assessed for the course)
  • Are our students learning from their peers, and what are they learning
  • Students think they learn more from

Reconceptualizing the Pedagogical Value of Student Facilitation (Daniel Zingaro & Murat Oztok & Clare Brett, Jim Hewitt)

Daniel Zingaro University of Toronto

Abstract (pasted from AERA 2013 program)

Sustained interaction is critical to the learning potential of online courses. And though research has surfaced many factors that mediate interaction, it also suggests that such interaction can prove elusive. In this paper, we propose that student facilitation may have an impact on facilitators' interaction patterns following a week of moderating a course discussion. We suggest that moderation acts to inculcate students into the social fabric of an online course, prior to which their role and performance is ill-defined. We motivate this hypothesis and offer preliminary findings.


Student facilitation

Brown, Collins, Duguid (1989)

  • Apprenticeships, then extend to cognitive apprenticeship

What's student facilitation?

  • Students come up with discussion questions, then facilitate/moderate the discourse


Theoretical framework

  • Lave & Wenger: legitimate peripheral participation (LPP)
  • LPP could explain ways that facilitation inculcates students
  • Moore : transactional distance
  • Learners' perception of psychological gap

Data sources

  • 2 of Clare's courses
  • Instructor modelled the first 2 weeks of online facilitation


  • Case study approach

Theme 1: LPP

  • Facilitation helps students learn how to learn in online courses
  • Students became aware of how flexible they had to be (discourse could go in a different direction)

Theme 2: autonomy

  • Can promote increased learner-content interaction
  • promote peer interaction (i.e with co-moderator)

The Influence of Leadership Collaboration and Leadership Distribution in Peer-Moderated Asynchronous Online Discussions (Kui Xie)

Kui Xie The Ohio State University

Abstract (pasted from AERA 2013 program)

Social network analysis techniques were utilized to examine the leadership roles of peer moderators and their influences on social networks of online classes. Fifty-seven students participated in online learning activities facilitated by assigned moderators. Two leadership patterns emerged from social network analysis including leadership collaboration and leadership distribution. The results suggested that single leaders demonstrated greater participation effort and achieved greater leadership perceived by the class members. Shared leadership showed positive influence on group performance in participation as well as social network cohesion.


Peer moderation

  • How does this affect participation patterns in online discussions?