The Value of an Anonymous Backchannel in Introductory Courses

by Perry Samson

The attrition of students belonging to populations traditionally a minority in STEM disciplines remains a national priority for undergraduate education. Arguably a critical inflection point for many college students is their first exposure to a STEM discipline that occurs in large entry-level survey courses. In these courses student inquiry is often negligible with many students uncomfortable posing verbal questions, stemming in part from a lack of confidence, fear of looking foolish, and discomfort in disrupting the class, and is particularly pronounced for students traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields. Accordingly, such climatic factors are considered critical to addressing STEM college student attrition. A relatively novel approach to addressing large-class climatic features is the use of in-class anonymous “backchannels” as a ‘social layer’ to improve student classroom engagement. Backchannels are secondary, digital conversations that take place during a class session that allow students to anonymously post questions, voting on questions, and giving the lecturer feedback regarding the pace of the lecture and/or alerting the instructor that they were “lost.” There is evidence that the use of a backchannel increases the frequency of questions posed and increases the range of students participating in classroom interactions. This poster describes the ongoing “BackChannel” project that aims to measure the effect of anonymous backchannels on students’ sense of belonging.

Poster/Demo link.