Evaluation and automatic analysis of MOOC forum comments

My doctoral thesis is available to download via the University of Southampton’s ePrints site.


Moderators of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) undertake a dual role. Their work entails not just facilitating an effective learning environment, but also identifying excelling and struggling learners, and providing pedagogical encouragement and direction. Supporting learners is a critical part of moderators’ work, and identifying learners’ level of critical thinking is an important part of this process. As many thousands of learners may communicate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week using MOOC comment forums, providing support in this environment is a significant challenge for the small numbers of moderators typically engaged in this work. In order to address this challenge, I adopt established coding schemes used for pedagogical content analysis of online discussions to classifying comments, and report on several studies I have undertaken which seek to ascertain the reliability of these approaches, establishing associations with these methods and linguistic and other indicators of critical thinking. I develop a simple algorithmic method of classification based on automatically sorting comments according to their linguistic composition, and evaluate an interview-based case study, where this algorithm is applied to an on-going MOOC. The algorithm method achieved good reliability when applied to a prepared test data set, and when applied to unlabelled comments in a live MOOC and evaluated by MOOC moderators, it was considered to have provided useful, actionable feedback. This thesis provides contributions that help to understand the usefulness of automatic analysis of levels of critical thinking in MOOC comment forums, and as such has implications for future learning analytics research, and e-learning policy making.