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Instructional Design and Technology in Education

Analyzing Discussion Board Interactions

As we approach the end of the semester, it is a good time to review your current course(s) to see what changes you might want to make for the next time the course is offered. I was recently reminded about a discussion board tool that analyzes the discussion board posts and replies made by participants. This tools works in a learning management system like Blackboard or Moodle. Snapp v2, is a bookmarklet that you install in your browser (Firefox, Safari, or IE) that gives you a visual view of the interactions that took place (or are taking place) in your discussion board. SNAPP stands for Social Networks Adapting Pedagogical Practice and was developed to look at social learning interactions.

This tool looks at the connections made between participants and gives you various options for visualization the data. You can filter on user activity or by date, for examples. It can not give value to the quality of the interaction–that evaluation still remains with you as the instructor. The product website gives examples of how the visualizations might be interrupted:

The social network diagrams can be used to identify:

  1. isolated students
  2. facilitator-centric network patterns where a tutor or academic is central to the network with little interaction occurring between student participants
  3. group malfunction
  4. users that bridge smaller clustered networks and serve as information brokers

Lets look at some examples:

In this example the red dot is the instructor. The instructor is almost the only one who is replying to other students. Those students are not replying back to the instructor and they aren’t engaging with other. The outlaying yellow dots represent students who post and get no response. This visualization might indicate that the discussion question needs to be reworked. There might only be one answer that is obvious so the instructor might consider rewriting the question.

In this example, the instructor is also represented by the red dot. You can see that more of the interaction is taking place between students and with the instructor and a handful of students are helping to broker the conversation. Some students who received comments did not comment back. It could be that the instructor needs to require everyone to make comments to a set number of classmates as a way to help get the conversation going.


In this example there is some interaction going on but it is isolated to separate groups. There are many students who are posting but not interacting with the others. It also looks like a cave drawing! I keep waiting for the dots to start dancing!


Not only can you use SNAPP to help you consider changing your discussion question, you can also use it during class for class management. You can quickly identify which students might be at risk or might be feeling isolated when they are posting and aren’t getting responses back or are not posting replies to their classmates. In the above example, the instructor could see this is happening and encourage more participation.

If you offer a period of time for discussion to take place you can grab screenshots to document how the interaction changes over time. You can also review the visualization to see how your presence in the class changes the dynamic of the conversation.

In this situation, the discussion period is over one week. This diagram shows the interaction for the first 3 days.

And this diagram shows the interaction for the last 2 days:

You can also encourage your students to download the tool for their own use so that they can monitor how responsive they are being to the class.

For an interesting read on using SNAPP for learning networks see this article, “Seeing’ networks: visualising and evaluating student learning networks” found at


Author: Heidi Olson

Heidi enjoys working with content experts in developing eCampus courses to provide alternatives for students. Her other interests include faculty training in best practices for eCampus and researching eCampus tools to help fulfill learning outcomes. Having worked in the distance education arena for over 20 years, she has a wide range of experiences in supporting students and faculty as technology and pedagogy evolve.

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