AERA 2023 Conference Roundtable

The Nature of Online Discussions: Structure, Content, and Discourse in Whole Class vs. Small Groups

Mete Akcaoglu & Bret Staudt Willet


online learning, online discussions, class discussions, social network analysis


In this paper, we discuss the outcomes from an intervention where graduate students in an asynchronous online course were placed in a whole group discussion for four weeks, and into small discussion groups during the following four weeks. Previous research indicated this intervention led to increased social presence perceptions among students. In the current study, we found that the intervention led to positive changes in the social network structure, as well as increased vocabulary indicating social belongingness, as measured using computational linguistic analyses. We discuss the findings and implications in light of asynchronous online learning and benefits from such simple interventions.