This information applies only to the Ultra Course View.

Why discussion analysis?

Students report that their satisfaction with online courses relates to instructor presence. Discussions are an easy way to engage students in your courses. Class discussions broaden communication and foster strong connections among the group and with you. This feature is a staple for online instructors, and now we've made it simpler to use.

Instructors with an average of 25 students use discussions most often. But, the average class size is 35–40 students. In courses with many discussions or high participation, you may find you can't gauge student participation or gather enough details. When you add a discussion activity, you may have these goals:

  • Encourage participation
  • Engage your students
  • Read all the responses
  • Assign grades

If you have many students, these goals become a challenge. Some instructors choose to award credit for completion instead of in-depth grading. Discussion analysis simplifies grading, so you have more time to engage with students.

Gain insight into each student's discussion activity

Discussion analysis provides an in-depth look at each student’s discussion participation, critical thinking level, and sentence complexity. These performance-based insights show you which students who may need help or are out of the normal range of participation.

Our discussion analysis algorithm focuses on a student's content and provides details to help you evaluate participation. We've automated the word count and introduced features that address the meaningfulness of the writing.

Discussion analysis components

Discussion analysis provides a closer look at how your students perform with two unique sets of data: critical thinking and sentence complexity. We've also included discussion details for more insight into the volume of student responses.

From a discussion's Grade & Participation page, select students to view their posts and analysis.

Critical thinking. We identify words and phrases within a student's total posts that indicate critical thinking. Twelve dictionaries are used to identify the words, which then fall into one of the weighted categories of critical thinking:

  • Argue a position
  • Include supporting data
  • Cite literature or experience
  • Evaluate
  • Summarize
  • Reference data
  • Offer a hypothesis

The weighted number of the words and phrases in each category are combined and then compared to the class average to create the critical thinking score. The score is the difference between the student’s critical thinking and the class average. This score is a decimal range of -1 to 1. A negative score means the student's critical thinking is below the class average. A positive score means the students critical thinking is above the class average. A score close to 0 means the student's critical thinking is at the class average level. These scores are represented by a range of low to high:

-1 < -0.06 = Low
-0.06 to -0.03 = Below Average
-0.03 to 0.03 = Average
0.03 to 0.06 = Above Average
.06 to 1 = High

In the future, you'll be able to see the student and class score separately. Critical thinking will also be represented visually to better depict each student's scores in comparison to the class average.


  • Empirical research shows disagreeing displays a higher level of critical thinking than agreeing. In a discussion, the statement "I agree with John" receives a score of 0.113, while "I disagree with John" receives a score of 0.260.
  • If students summarize a passage but add no opinion or argument, they score lower than others who argue a position.
  • If students cite literature, they receive a lower score than others who offer a hypothesis.

Sentence complexity. Sentence complexity is measured by the number of sentences, words, and syllables in each word. We look at the complexity of words and how often the words are used. This measurement is a linguistic standard called Flesch-Kincaid. The complexity of each student’s total posts is represented by a grade level from 1st grade to 16th grade. The text with a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 10 should be easily understood by a person in 10th grade.

Discussion details. In addition to the calculated readability, the details include average word count, responses, and replies for each student compared to the class average. This information, along with any rubrics or criteria you set, can help you determine a grade.

In the future, you'll be able to access score recommendations that provide a suggested grade for the discussion.

More on graded discussions

Hide discussion analysis

You can choose to hide discussion analysis. Access the menu and select Hide Discussion Analytics.

Levels of discussion analytics

You have access to a course discussion analytics page that presents information about each discussion at a high level. The information helps you visualize overall discussion participation among all students.

From the Discussions page, access a discussion's menu and select View Analytics.

You can also take a closer look at individual discussion posts. Select a student from the Top Participants section to open that student’s discussion posts and view the discussion analysis panel.

More on discussion analytics for your class

Watch a video about discussion analysis

The following narrated video provides a visual and auditory representation of some of the information included on this page. For a detailed description of what is portrayed in the video, open the video on YouTube, navigate to More actions, and select Open transcript.

Video: Discussion analysis provides an overview of the performance-based insights available to instructors.