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Solving the imbalanced data issue: automatic urgency detection for instructor assistance in MOOC discussion forums

Alrajhi, Laila; Alamri, Ahmed; Pereira, Filipe Dwan; Cristea, Alexandra I.; Oliveira, Elaine H. T.

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Laila Alrajhi
PGR Student Doctor of Philosophy

Ahmed Alamri

Filipe Dwan Pereira

Elaine H. T. Oliveira


In MOOCs, identifying urgent comments on discussion forums is an ongoing challenge. Whilst urgent comments require immediate reactions from instructors, to improve interaction with their learners, and potentially reducing drop-out rates—the task is difficult, as truly urgent comments are rare. From a data analytics perspective, this represents a highly unbalanced (sparse) dataset. Here, we aim to automate the urgent comments identification process, based on fine-grained learner modelling—to be used for automatic recommendations to instructors. To showcase and compare these models, we apply them to the first gold standard dataset for Urgent iNstructor InTErvention (UNITE), which we created by labelling FutureLearn MOOC data. We implement both benchmark shallow classifiers and deep learning. Importantly, we not only compare, for the first time for the unbalanced problem, several data balancing techniques, comprising text augmentation, text augmentation with undersampling, and undersampling, but also propose several new pipelines for combining different augmenters for text augmentation. Results show that models with undersampling can predict most urgent cases; and 3X augmentation + undersampling usually attains the best performance. We additionally validate the best models via a generic benchmark dataset (Stanford). As a case study, we showcase how the naïve Bayes with count vector can adaptively support instructors in answering learner questions/comments, potentially saving time or increasing efficiency in supporting learners. Finally, we show that the errors from the classifier mirrors the disagreements between annotators. Thus, our proposed algorithms perform at least as well as a ‘super-diligent’ human instructor (with the time to consider all comments).


Alrajhi, L., Alamri, A., Pereira, F. D., Cristea, A. I., & Oliveira, E. H. T. (2023). Solving the imbalanced data issue: automatic urgency detection for instructor assistance in MOOC discussion forums. User Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 9, 2023
Online Publication Date Dec 1, 2023
Publication Date Dec 1, 2023
Deposit Date Jan 10, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jan 10, 2024
Journal User Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction
Print ISSN 0924-1868
Electronic ISSN 1573-1391
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Computer Science Applications; Human-Computer Interaction; Education
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