British Columbia

Talking in class could have benefits, says new UBC research

UBC instructor Catherine Rawn used to hate it when her students talked during her lessons — but after researching the issue, she's had a change of heart.

UBC study suggests chattering students get more out of class, even when it's uncontrolled

Many instructors and students alike find chatterbugs in class to be a real nuisance. But are those students who are more likely to chat also more likely to succeed? Some new research says they could be. (Tom Wang/Shutterstock)

Many university students find chatty people in the lecture hall annoying. But according to new research from the University of British Columbia, all those chit-chatterers might be alright after all.

"Embrace Chattering Students: They May Be Building Community and Interest in Your Class," was researched by psychology instructor Catherine Rawn and grad student Gillian Sandstrom for the journal Teaching for Psychology.

They found students who chatted more with their peers in class felt a greater sense of belonging, liked the class more, and had a greater sense of community — and all of those, Rawn says, make a student more likely to graduate.

"As an instructor, it's something that grates on my nerves from time to time … With this data, it does make me feel a little bit better," Rawn said in an interview with On The Coast's Stephen Quinn.

Rawn says while her findings have implications for students who may or may not be chattering away while the lesson is going on, there's also a message for instructors as to what makes for a successful classroom.

Lessons for students, instructors

In their research, Rawn and Sandstrom followed 242 first and third year university students and surveyed them throughout a semester about how much talking they did in class — whether it was at an appropriate time or not — and asked them how much they felt like they belonged in the class and if they enjoyed it.

Rawn believes the greater sense of enjoyment and belonging she found among chattering students shows genuine connections and community being built between peers.

She says instructors like herself should pay attention to these potential benefits, especially if they may help students graduate.

"It's a symptom that there are friendships in my classroom," she said. "If I can harness that conversation and push it in a direction of being on-topic and learning, then I think that chatter that's going to happen anyway will have the extra benefit of contributing to learning."

When it comes to harnessing that chatter, Rawn says instructors can start off by getting students talking with each other during the lesson so they can blow off a little steam if they're bored.

Rawn also advises instructors not to be so quick to stifle conversations — although admits even she can find this difficult.