Guan et al. (2006). Content analysis of online discussion on a senior-high-school discussion forum of a virtual physics laboratory

Guan, Y.H., Tsai, C.C., & Hwang, F.K. (2006). Content analysis of online discussion on a senior-high-school discussion forum of a virtual physics laboratory. Instructional science. 34 (4) pp. 279-311

In this study we content analyzed the online discussion of several senior-high-school groups on a forum of a virtual physics laboratory in Taiwan. The goal of our research was to investigate the nature of non-course-based online discussion and to find out some useful guidelines in developing such discussion forums for learning purposes.

DN: Studied extracurricular forum activity, not course-based. Results not applicable to what I need, but maybe some content analysis methodology could be useful…

Researchers adopted Henri’s framework and models1 (like the previous Garrison study). As a result, used the same parameters:

The content analysis was conducted in terms of participation rate, social cues, interaction types, and cognitive and metacognitive skills.

Why look at non-course-based discussion boards? Getting a self-direction and lifelong learning:

The advantages of non-course-based online discussion lie in that the participants of the discussion are not limited to the members of a particular course, and the participation in the discussion is based on common interests shared by the participants. That is, the participation is totally voluntary and people may join or leave the discussion any time they want.

DN: How did they get ethical approval to gather data on minors in a public discussion board?

The discussion started with a message containing a question that could be posted by any participant. Whoever was interested in the topic could rely to it. The size of discussion groups ranged from 1 to 213 participants. The participation on the forum was voluntary.

Two moderators supervised the discussion forum. A moderator was a physics professor in NTNU. The other one was a senior-high-school physics teacher.

These moderators filtered content, removing objectionable/rude words, correcting misleading concepts/statements.

The content of a message was analyzed based on its idea(s). An idea expressed a complete thought, which might contain one or several sentences or even several paragraphs. A message might consist of more than one idea. The analysis was conducted according to five dimensions: the participation rate, social cues, interaction types, cognitive skills, and metacognitive skills.


Altogether we analyzed 575 messages containing 634 ideas, which were posted by 349 participants.

Overall, 19.72% of the ideas were not relevant to the subject under discussion. Only 11.49% of the ideas revealed metacognitive skills (i.e., those of ‘evaluation’, ‘planning’, ‘regulation’, and ‘self-awareness’), and 16.88% of the ideas did not reveal any cognitive or metacognitive components considered in the study.

There were 2 types of discussion board activities – NR where significant contribution was not required in order to participate, and R, where a significant and guided contribution was required in order to gain access to the board. Active participation in the Required group was low, even though number of participants was high (they needed to participate in order to gain access, but didn’t care about the board). The Non-Required board had much higher active participation (numbers of posts) although lower numbers of participants (because it was an optional discussion board).

Also, the Required board posts seemed to be lower, meta-cognitively, than the Non-Required board posts, although Required posts showed higher cognitive levels. Not sure of the value of this distinction – non-required activities are ~more metacognitive, but required activities are ~more cognitive? so many variables. so many generalizations.

Overall, whether online discussion can help people to learn more deeply depends on the quality of discussion, which can be influenced by the features of participants and discussion topics, the interactions between the participants, the purpose, design and organization of the discussion forums, and not least the moderators coordinating the discussion.2

  1. Henri, F. (1992). Computer conferencing and content analysis. In A.R. Kaye, ed., Collaborative learning through computer conferencing: the Najaden papers, pp. 115–136. Springer: New York. []
  2. Duh. []

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