Computer-Assisted Reading and Discovery for Student Generated Text in Massive Open Online Courses


  • Justin Reich Harvard University
  • Dustin Tingley Harvard University
  • Jetson Leder-Luis Harvard Decisions
  • Margaret E. Roberts Harvard University
  • Brandon Stewart Harvard Univesity



Massive Open Online Courses, topic modelling, text analysis, computer‐assisted reading


Dealing with the vast quantities of text that students generate in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other large-scale online learning environments is a daunting challenge. Computational tools are needed to help instructional teams uncover themes and patterns as students write in forums, assignments, and surveys. This paper introduces to the learning analytics community the Structural Topic Model, an approach to language processing that can 1) find syntactic patterns with semantic meaning in unstructured text, 2) identify variation in those patterns across covariates, and 3) uncover archetypal texts that exemplify the documents within a topical pattern. We show examples of computationally aided discovery and reading in three MOOC settings: mapping students’ self-reported motivations, identifying themes in discussion forums, and uncovering patterns of feedback in course evaluations. 

Author Biography

Justin Reich, Harvard University

Richard. L Menschel HarvardX Research Fellow, Office of the President and Provost, Harvard University

Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Lecturer, MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program

Affiliate, Berkman Center for Internet & Society




How to Cite

Reich, J., Tingley, D., Leder-Luis, J., Roberts, M. E., & Stewart, B. (2014). Computer-Assisted Reading and Discovery for Student Generated Text in Massive Open Online Courses. Journal of Learning Analytics, 2(1), 156–184.