TL;DR: Women prefer text contributions over talk in remote classes

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Dive Brief:

  • Female students show a stronger preference for contributing to remote classes via text chat than their male counterparts, according to peer-reviewed research published in PLOS One, an open-access journal.
  • Researchers also found all students were more likely to use the chat function to support or amplify their peers’ comments than to diminish them. 
  • Given these findings, the researchers suggested incorporating text chats into class discussions could boost female participation in large introductory science classrooms, where women are less likely to participate than men.

Dive Insight:

In fall 2020, the first full semester during the COVID-19 pandemic, many students struggled to adapt to the shift to online education, let alone engage meaningfully with subject matter.

Researchers studied the class participation of 237 undergraduates during that term across two sections of a University of Minnesota introductory biology course designed for nonmajors.

While the class included asynchronous elements, it also met remotely for 75 minutes twice a week. Students participated through a mix of in-class polling, verbal contributions, and text-based chatting over Zoom. 

All students expressed enthusiasm over the chat option, but women disproportionately favored it, the researchers found. The report also suggests many students, especially women, find it intimidating to make comments or ask questions in large lecture courses, according to co-author Rachael Robnett, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“It seemed like aspects of online instruction were making it easier and more fun to participate in class discussions,” Robnett said in an email.

It’s important to note that the instructor incorporated the text chat into class from the first day, making it “a legitimate and welcome mode of communication,” according to the report. “An instructor that ignores the chatting, or even suggests students participate vocally instead, will likely not experience chatting the way we describe here.” 

Roughly half of the students also completed a survey about the chat option. The women enrolled in the class were especially likely to support including a chat feature in future in-person courses, according to Robnett.

The trend is especially noteworthy given that class participation in in-person courses is associated with academic success and at the same time is often challenging for students from marginalized backgrounds, Robnett said. 

“Instructors should consider alternatives to the traditional ‘raise your hand’ method of encouraging participation,” she said. “There are quite a few alternatives, including providing students with opportunities to post comments in online forums and clicker activities where students can anonymously weigh in during classes.”

The researchers plan to study the effects of text chat in remote classes on a broader scale and are currently collecting data from a wider range of courses, instructors and institutions.

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