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Live Chat Boosts College Women’s Class Participation

Research seeks ways to fold virtual class-inspired feature into post-pandemic return to in-person STEM instruction

by University of Nevada Las Vegas
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Women much more enthusiastically embraced the live chat function during pandemic Zoom classes than men, according to a new University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) study. Researchers hope the data could be a key to broadening underrepresented groups’ access to STEM disciplines as colleges incorporate technology into hybrid and even in-person courses.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, examined the anonymous chat summaries from Fall 2020 of 230 students spread across two introductory biology lecture courses for non-majors that were offered via synchronous remote video instruction. About half of the students participated in a follow-up survey and, of those, nearly two-thirds identified as women, 32 percent as men, and five percent as gender fluid or transgender.

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The survey asked students to rate on a scale of one (disagree strongly) to seven (agree strongly) statements about their live chat experiences, including whether the feature made class fun, helped them feel more comfortable participating in discussions, or facilitated learning. Although both men and women generally agreed, women’s ratings were significantly higher than men’s. What’s more, women (5.61/7) were significantly more likely than men (4.06/7) to say that they wished in-person classes included a mechanism similar to the live chat feature. 

The UNLV research team noted that past studies have shown evidence that actively engaging with classmates improves performance and retention. Engagement, even through chat functions, deepens students’ sense of belonging—an outcome that’s especially valuable for students traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields due to ethnic background, gender, or lack of family history in higher education.

“Our findings imply that implementing strategies such as live chat may help to address stubborn gender gaps in STEM degree attainment and help women feel more comfortable in a space that has not always welcomed them,” said lead researcher, UNLV psychology professor, and gender development expert Rachael D. Robnett.

- This press release was originally published on the University of Nevada Las Vegas website