Analyzing discourse structure to coordinate educational forums

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Citation: Marco Aurélio Gerosa, Mariano Gomes Pimentel, Hugo Fuks, Carlos Lucena (2004) Analyzing discourse structure to coordinate educational forums. Intelligent Tutoring Systems (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Analyzing discourse structure to coordinate educational forums
Tagged: Education (RSS) e-learning (RSS), coordination (RSS), forums (RSS), CMC (RSS)


This paper suggests some ways of analyzing educational forums used in e-learning. It also presents an analysis of one forum with hierarchical discussions of one topic per week. A student serving as seminar leader is tasked with starting and keeping the discussion going, including posting a seminar message followed by three questions.

This forum is IBIS-inspired, using 6 categories of message types:

  • Seminar (root message, posted by the seminar leader)
  • Question (each of 3 questions, also posted by the seminar leader)
  • Argumentation "to answer the questions, offering the author’s point of view in the message subject line and the arguments for it in the body of the message"
  • Counter-Argumentation, "to be used when the author states a position that is contrary to an argument"
  • Clarification

The analysis takes into consideration

  • Depth of the tree
  • Length of a typical post (which differs depending on its type)
  • Type of posts (if there's only argumentation "idea confrontation" may not be taking place; whereas excessive counter argumentation might indicate over-involvment or signal interpersonal conflicts)
  • Percentage of each type, by level of the tree

The authors also consider the possible orders in which messages of different types can be posted. For instance, Seminar must be at the root, but only at the root, and Question (or possibly Clarification) at the first level. Subsequently, on level 2, Argumentation can additionally appear. Finally, Counter-Arguments can begin to appear on level 3. However, it appears that students sometimes choose the wrong category.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

May help teachers of online courses analyze students' discussions without reading them. May suggest visualizations or interfaces (such as IBIS argumention-based tools) that systems-designers could integrate into courseware.