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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

Tim O'Riordan

What was your academic and professional background before you joined the DTC / CDT?

I had a Masters in Education, 20 years experience as a media producer and had just completed a contract as a digital media advisor at Jisc.

Why did you choose to study Web Science?

I had just finished running a pilot video sharing web platform for educators and learners and was looking to research methods to identify/measure critical thinking in comments associated with web-based learning objects.

What was your PhD research topic?

Evaluation and automatic analysis of MOOC forum comments

I chose Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) comment forums mainly for convenience as the University were were running several MOOCs on the FutureLearn platform and this allowed access to lots of very useful data.

My thesis reported on several studies I undertook over 3 years exploring critical thinking in comment forums. These studies sought to determine the reliability of pedagogical content analysis methods and establish associations between these methods and linguistic and other indicators of critical thinking. Using statistical methods I developed a simple machine learning derived algorithmic method of classification based on automatically sorting comments according to their linguistic composition, and evaluated an interview-based case study where this algorithm was applied to an on-going MOOC. The algorithm method achieved good reliability when applied to a prepared test data set, and when applied to unlabelled comments in a live MOOC and evaluated by MOOC moderators, it was considered to have provided useful, actionable feedback.


I presented my research at several FutureLearn Academic Network meetings and achieved some conference and journal paper publications. O'Riordan, T., Millard, D. and Schulz, J. (2020) Is Critical Thinking Happening? Testing Content Analysis Schemes Applied to MOOC Discussion Forums, Computer Applications in Engineering Education Special Issue - Distance Learning Globalization. Citations (13/08/2021): 4 O'Riordan, T., Millard, D. and Schulz, J. (2016) How should we measure online learning? In Research in Learning Technology. [Online] Available at: Citations (13/08/2021): 15 O'Riordan, T., Millard, D. and Schulz, J. (2015) Can you tell if they’re learning? Using a pedagogical framework to measure pedagogical activity. In, ICALT 2015: 15th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, Hualien, TW, 06 - 09 Jul 2015. 3pp. Citations (13/08/2021): 5

What was your experience of DTC/CDT cohort activities, events and training?

The DTC/CDT offered some great, highly relevant activities, events and training. I organised a data visualisation workshop, was involved supporting the university's MOOC provision, and had the opportunity to attended conferences closely aligned to my research. I also wrote blog posts on various topics - here are two examples: O’Riordan, T. and Harris, L. (2017) An end to the ‘anything goes’ culture? The manifestos on social media and fake news. London School of Economics: British Politics and Policy Blog. [Online] Available at: O’Riordan, T. (2015) Periscoping our MOOC: Live broadcasts to support learning. #ALTC BLOG News & Views from the ALT Community. [Online] Available at:

How did your DTC / CDT experience influence your subsequent career?

I'm not sure if you can call it a career - but I've found the research skills I was allowed time to develop have been extremely useful in finding employment in a variety of jobs since completing the programme.

Did you gain any industry experience or participate in any internships?

In tandem with my research I worked as a project officer for the Web Science Trust and the European Data Science Academy. I also taught/demonstrated on several modules. There were internships available, but I did not apply.

What were the benefits of being part of the DTC / CDT cohort?

Being part of a cheerful community of experts who were always willing to share their expertise.

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