Communication Currents

Any questions? Technology May Be One Answer in a Large-Lecture Classroom

April 1, 2015
Instructional Communication

Engaging students in a rich discussion in a large-lecture classroom is a challenge for educators. The social nature of the large-lecture classroom environment may cause students to have reservations about speaking in class. They may feel intimated or experience greater anxiety and nervousness. Promoting an environment in which students feel comfortable asking questions and being part of the discussion is important. Student engagement is an active process in which a student participates in educationally purposeful activities that enhance student learning and performance. In the classroom environment, this may be best evaluated through an analysis of students’ question-asking, question-answering, and other participation behaviors. While there are a variety of social media outlets that support collaboration and participation, microblogs appear to be best suited to facilitate question-asking, question-answering, and participation behaviors.

Our study aimed to incorporate microblogs into the traditional, large-lecture classroom, demonstrating social media can engage students in community building and sensemaking despite the large class size. The use of micro blogs can be helpful in personalizing the large-lecture environment and decrease the sense of intimidation that stops many students from asking questions. Our study used TodaysMeet, an anonymous, real time question/commenting forum. Students were invited to join the online microblog question room to post questions they had during class discussion. This medium can be used on mobile devices and laptops. In addition, students were assured verbal question-asking was encouraged. Students’ questions were recorded and counted to see the difference in participation behaviors.

Our results showed that the availability of a second channel for student interaction increased student question-asking. When students were able to synchronously ask questions throughout the class, it allowed them to ask questions and reflect as the presentation occurred rather than waiting until the end of the class period. This suggests that the computer-based channel increases student engagement by complementing the traditional classroom questions.

Educators can use the model in our study as a guide to help facilitate more classroom discussion. Students who are less likely to ask verbal questions because of anxiety or fear can have the option to participate by posting on the microblog. The students may choose certain communication processes on the basis of which process requires the least effort, which process he or she has used most, or which process can be achieved in the shortest amount of time. The technology implemented could benefit any large-lecture classroom setting by supporting student engagement, but it does require student access to a computer or mobile device. Our study demonstrated how using a supplemental mode of question-asking increased the number of questions posed.

It’s unclear why students asked more questions when the microblog format was made available.  We need to do more research to answer that question. From that, we can learn how to best facilitate an interactive learning environment for students in a large-lecture classroom format. Additional research also could answer the question of whether more question-asking really does lead to more student engagement.

About the author (s)

Lauren Cafferty

Texas State University-San Marcos

Graduate student

Christy J. W. Ledford

Uniformed Services University

Assistant Professor