Exploring Scholarly Discourse in MOOC Discussion Forums

Jim Jansen Headshot

COIL is proud to have supported the Exploring Scholarly Discourse in MOOC Discussion Forums project through our Research Initiation Grant Program.


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) continue to draw both praise and scrutiny from a variety of sources, from mainstream media outlets to faculty senate committees. One focal point is the low completion rate, typically in the range of 7-12%. However, should we measure this emerging online course format by traditional criteria? Even though completion rates are low, little is known about the learning that goes on in the course, particularly those that do not earn a certificate of completion.

Of particular interest in this study are MOOC forums and the level of scholarly discourse taking place among students. Few researchers focus on MOOC forums, partly because of the large number of students and content. This study applies a keyword analysis approach to analyzing a large amount of MOOC forum data, including a k-­‐means clustering approach to identify the types of interactions taking place on the forum. We then use Bloom’s taxonomy as a guide, to classify the level of scholarly discourse. By having a better understanding of student forum interactions, we hope to influence both MOOC course designs that leverage forums, as well as inform the design of future forum tools that highlight, from a learning perspective, the key contributors.


  • Jim Jansen, Associate Professor, College of Information Sciences and Technology, Penn State University Park
  • Bart Pursel, Faculty Programs Coordinator, Teaching and Learning with Technology, Penn State University Park
  • Priya Sharma, Associate Professor, College of Education, Penn State University Park
  • Brian Smith, Professor, School of Education, Drexel University
  • Christopher Brooks, Research Fellow, USE Lab, University of Michigan
  • Steven Lonn, Assistant Director, USE Lab, University of Michigan


Jim Jansen HeadshotJim Jansen
College of Information Sciences and Technology
321G Information Sciences & Technology Building
University Park, PA 16802
(814) 865 6459

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