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Content analysis

Content analysis can be especially helpful for BOLD fellows, because much of your process data will be in the form of digital content, e.g., online discussion boards, students’ multimedia productions. As a descriptive method, content analysis identifies patterns within and across multiple texts and forms of texts. These patterns may include the presence of certain words or concepts, syntax structures or questions types. Researchers then generative meaningful descriptive categories or themes under which to organize their observations about these patterns. For example, when conducting a content analysis of an online discussion board in a “Biodesign for Mobile Health” course, you might find that students use patterns of language about “sick care” rather than “health improvement”. You might then make inferences about how the learning module connected to these discussions was or was not scaffolding students conceptual development around your learning goal: shifting students conceptions of healthcare from care of “the sick” to “improving health”.

Some guiding research questions that may help focus content analyses of student work in online learning modules include:

  • Are there patterns of language use that indicate metacognition?
    • If so, do these patterns lead to the inference that features of the learning modules increased student meta-cognition?
  • Are there patterns of mentor narratives in which students collaborate and guide each other through procedures or in understanding and applying concepts?
    • If so, do these patterns lead to the inference that features of the learning modules increased mentor narratives in student collaboration?

External content analysis resources:

  1. University of Colorado Writing Studio
    • A comprehensive guide that includes from a descriptive history of content analysis.
    • Also includes step by step guides for conceptual and relational analysis as rigorous applications of content analysis.
  2. Introduction to content analysis
    • Includes detailed steps for defining units of analysis, or “what to count.” Also addresses qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches to describing content.