Studying the Effectiveness of the Discussion Forum in Online Professional Development Courses

Susan Lowes
Peiyi Lin
Yan Wang
Teachers College/Columbia University


As online professional development courses for teachers have grown, the discussion forum has become a locus of considerable research. This study analyzes the discussion forums in four different sessions of a short (4-week) online course for teachers from six schools in three states. This study also compares four methodologies, all of which have a visualization component: an analysis of data from the CMS; network analysis; content analysis; and sequential analysis. In addition, this study describes the insights into the effectiveness of the course design and facilitation that each approach provides, correlates these with participant satisfaction, and argues for using a combination of methods when studying discussion forums in online courses.

About the Author(s)...

Susan Lowes is Director of Research and Evaluation at the Institute for Learning Technologies and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Program in Communication, Computing, Technology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.  Dr. Lowes directs the evaluation of many programs at the K-12 and university levels, including those funded by NSF, the U.S. Department of Education, and state and local governments. Many of her projects focus on online learning, including recent research on the effect of teaching online on teaching in the face-to-face classroom. She may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Yan Wang is a post-doctoral scholar at New York University. She has M.A. and Ed.D. degrees from the program in Communication, Computers, Technology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include problem-solving through multiple perspectives, designing video as a cognitive tool, and interaction in collaborative virtual communities.

Peiyi Lin is a doctoral candidate in the program in Communication, Computers, Technology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has an M.A. in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University. Her research interests include the role of school administrators in teacher professional development and the influence of instructional leaders on school culture.

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