Educational Technology Research and Development

, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 87–113 | Cite as

Starburst: a new graphical interface to support purposeful attention to others’ posts in online discussions

  • Farshid MarboutiEmail author
  • Alyssa Friend Wise
Development Article


Online discussions offer exciting potential for educational dialogue, but too often result in disjointed conversations with low levels of interactivity. One contributing cause is the traditional text-based interface, which presents posts in a long list, leaving students overwhelmed and without useful navigational cues. To address this problem, we used information visualization techniques to design a graphical discussion forum interface. Starburst presents discussion posts as a dynamic hyperbolic tree: higher-level posts initially appear as larger and more central nodes, with each level of replies appearing smaller and more towards the periphery. To evaluate the new interface, students’ discussion participation using Starburst was compared to their activity interacting with the same discussion content in a traditional text-based linear forum. Results showed that students were more purposeful in selecting which discussion threads to read when using Starburst and read new posts in a more connected fashion. Implications for the future design, use, and research of online discussions are considered.


Online learning Computer mediated communication Asynchronous discussions Information visualization Interface design 



This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Engineering EducationPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of EducationSimon Fraser UniversitySurreyCanada

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