Nebula is a network-structured graphical discussion forum interface that visualizes posts as nodes and directed edges as replies to posts.
Our team at Northwestern University designed Nebula over the summer of 2015 as a joint collaboration between the Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences (IEMS) department and Northwestern Information Technology (NUIT).
Nebula is a Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) app that integrates with Canvas. It is publicly available for any course instructor whose institution uses Canvas as their learning management system. To add Nebula to your Canvas course, please visit the Nebula apps store for a free download.
We designed Nebula to overcome some of the challenges we encountered in our prior experiences with online discussions. Typically, discussion forums are text-based, linear, with posts being chronologically ordered. The design features of these “traditional” discussion forums mask the emergent structure of discussions, inhibiting users from gaining “metaknowledge” of who knows what, who said what, and who responded to whom. Using Nebula, users have the means to more easily view, navigate, and direct the evolving nature of their online discussions. We have conducted several studies examining how Nebula alters the nature of discussions. Our findings indicate that Nebula improves interactivity and collaboration among participants during their discussions.