In this article:
- Students have generally positive experiences with live, one-on-one chat functions that connect them to their professors
- Students most often used the chat functions to ask short, succinct questions about upcoming assignments and tests.
- More complex questions, or questions that students felt others students might benefit from, were asked on the course-wide discussion board or in tutorials.
- The casual, conversation-like nature of the live chat function helped online students feel more connected to the teaching staff.
We’ve written a lot about fostering a sense of connection in digital courses and how students who feel supported are more likely to succeed in both their courses and in their degree. And, being a tech start-up, we’re always interested to see if a technological solution can help support student communities.
We were thrilled when reading this recent study from Deakin University and the University of Queensland, both in Australia. Researchers asked if students responded well to the live, one-on-one chat functions built into the course LMS – and the answer was a resounding yes.
About the study
Researchers evaluated surveys from 246 university students in Australia, with 155 students taking blended online/on-campus classes and 91 students purely online. Both groups of students were overwhelmingly female (90 per cent for blended and 88 per cent for online) and studying psychology (57 per cent for blended and 69 per cent for online). The average age of blended students was higher than the online students (31 years and 21 years, respectively.)
The research was conducted on a live chat platform that integrated with their universities’ LMS. One-on-one chats were private and not shared with the other students afterwards. That being said, teaching staff could have conversations with more than one student at a time.
Students predominantly used the service to ask about tests/assignments
Most students asked clarifying questions about upcoming assignments, tests and other assessments. They also preferred to keep questions short and succinct, keeping more complex, in-depth questions for the tutorials. That being said, many students noted they liked the private, one-on-one feature of the chat board where they could ask questions without fear of looking “stupid” in front of their peers (words in the responses, not ours).
Students also noted that they appreciated the quick response time for many of their questions, noting it was considerably quicker than course discussion boards.
Roughly one-quarter of blended students did not ask about extensions or question a received mark via the live chat, however, online students did not mention this as a boundary. Half of the students reported they felt comfortable asking almost anything over the chat.
The platform helped online learners feel connected to campus
Online learners also noted it helped replicate the face-to-face nature of a conversation they could have had had they been on campus. Some online students felt as if this helped them develop relationships with their professors and TAs that would have been difficult to develop otherwise. Many responses from teaching staff were also personable and empathetic, helping the students feel connected.
Online chat isn’t the only thing instructors can do to help students foster a sense of belonging online. According to a study published in the Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, there are four key things professors can do to improve students’ sense of belonging online.
- Break lectures up with discussions & activities to increase engagement
- Create steady, reoccurring breakout groups so students can get to know each other over the weeks
- Assign roles & provide discussion questions early to increase student’s engagement
- Open Zoom classes 10-15 minutes early and keep open 10-15 minutes after class to allow for casual discussion & questions
Read more about this study on our previous blog here.
Students were cognizant of where a question should be asked
One interesting response that many students communicated in the survey was that students would post their questions on the course-wide discussion boards if it was more complex or if they felt other students would benefit from seeing the answer to their question.
Peer-to-peer tutoring and mentorship programs can also help students form valuable, lifelong connections to their community — the trick is to make them easily accessible. Nimbus’s platform easily integrates into your institution’s learning management system and can connect students with the support they need in a few easy clicks. With Nimbus’ help, 60% of our partners have been able to expand their current student success programs or add new services that meet students where they are. Our dedicated team can help inform you (and your student interns) on where to focus your marketing efforts and can even provide custom materials and strategies to ensure your program’s success.
Broadbent J, Lodge J. Use of live chat in higher education to support self-regulated help seeking behaviours: a comparison of online and blended learner perspectives. Int J Educ Technol High Educ. 2021;18(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s41239-021-00253-2. Epub 2021 Apr 6. PMID: 34778522; PMCID: PMC8021438.
Sungjun Won, Lauren C. Hensley & Christopher A. Wolters (2021) Brief Research Report: Sense of Belonging and Academic Help-Seeking as Self-Regulated Learning, The Journal of Experimental Education, 89:1, 112-124, DOI: 10.1080/00220973.2019.1703095
Tice, D., Baumeister, R., Crawford, J., Allen, K., & Percy, A. (2021). Student belongingness in higher education: Lessons for Professors from the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 18(4). https://doi.org/10.53761/220.127.116.11