Setting: This study will be conducted in a 10-week undergraduate online Biology course in the School of Biology in UCI (BIO 99) in spring 2021. This is an asynchronous online course with synchronous discussion sections. Students will watch lecture videos and complete assignments on their own schedule but meet for discussion sections via synchronous zoom meetings (the discussion sections will be mandatory). Students will self-select into one of the six discussion sections when they enroll in the course. The purpose of the discussion sections is to review the previous week’s materials and have some breakout room activities. A total of 835 students will enroll in this course with 60-75 students in each discussion section.
Randomization and Group Assignment: All the students enrolled in BIO 99 will be invited to participate in the intervention. After the volunteer recruitment, within each discussion section, the volunteers will then be randomly assigned into treatment and control groups. Within each discussion section, all the treatment students will be assigned into small discussion groups (4-6 students), and all the control and non-participants will be randomly assigned into small discussion groups (4-6 students). The detailed group assignment is attached in the supplemental document - group assignment.
Intervention Design: In the treatment condition, students will be offered a big learning community on Discord (i.e., all the treatment students will be in the learning community). In the first two weeks of the intervention, the treatment students will be offered an after-class small study group with a group chat on Discord (4-6 students in the group chat). The after-class small study group for the treatment students will be the same as their small discussion group in the discussion section (4-6 students). The researcher will send out an email and group messages each week to encourage and facilitate small group activities. From the third week, the treatment students will further be offered opportunities to interact with the students outside their small study groups in two ways: (1) meeting with other peers using the live zoom meeting link set by the researcher; (2) scheduling a session to talk about a specific topic with the peers who have the same interests in this class. In each week of the quarter, the researcher will send out emails and group messages to facilitate and encourage small group activities. In the emails or messages, the researcher will also provide small group interaction tips with the students. In the control condition, the students will be offered a large learning community on the discord app (i.e., all the control students will be in the learning community). However, we will not mention the after-class small study group to the control students or help them to form it. Please see the detailed comparison between treatment and control in the supplemental material - Treatment & Control Comparison.
Data Collection: We will send out surveys in week 6 and week 9 to understand students' small group learning experiences. All the students will be provided with 1 point extra credit as incentives for completing each survey. In the final week of the quarter (week 11). we will send out the social-emotional survey to collect students' social-emotional outcomes. At the end of the quarter, we will also collect students' academic outcomes, including students' final total score, quiz test scores, homework assignment scores, discussion participation scores, and pre-lecture quiz scores. Please see the detailed week 6 & 9 surveys in the supplemental material - week 6/9 Survey.