Jeannette Schwarz

Students barely participate
in large lecture classes

Various reasons can be accounted for the observation that students tend to be passive in large-class lectures. Most notably, the arrangement within the lecture hall features an impersonal atmosphere and a largely anonymous audience. Certainly, anonymity is one of the key factors responsible for social barriers that hinder an unimpeded participation of students. For example, consider a student who needs further clarification on the lecture topic.

Fairly often, she thinks that her questions are stupid and not of interest to anyone else. This impression might be provoked by her fellow students who put on poker faces and give no clues about their thoughts on the topic whatsoever. Of course, in such environment no one wants to be the first raising a hand in order to publicly ask a potentially stupid question and in so doing admit difficulties in comprehending the topic.

Backstage strives to help students actively engage, even in large lecture classes

Improving Awareness

Backstage is a digital backchannel that aims at facilitating social interactions and collaboration in a large audience. It allows students to undisruptively share questions and comments during the lecture by short messages. Recognizing that others have similar problems in understanding the topic can help to lower the social barriers and contribute to establising social bondings between the students. Backstage allows students to share comments anonymously, which could make it easier to ask potentially embarassing questions. On Backstage it is also possible to share thoughts with certain students only, in order to ask for their opinions or to call for their support before making the comment public.

Jeannette Schwarz
Jeannette Schwarz

Writing a Post

Backstage aims at fostering communication highly related to the lecture topic. For this reason, the process of writing a message is fairly structured. Thus, a message needs to refer a meaningful part of the slide and belong to a category such as Question or Answer. The rationale behind this process is to convey to the student the kind of communication desired and to reduce off-topic chats. Furthermore, by the location at the slide and the category of the message alone a student can easily decide whether the message might be of interest or not, without the need to reading it.

Rating Messages

A message can be rated as a quick and easy way to give feedback to both its author and readers. By rating a message positively a student states that she finds the message valuable. She also votes for the message to be forwarded to the lecturer's backchannel view. In case of questions, a positive rating may also express that the rater seconds the question and is likewise interested in an answer while she may pass on asking the same question once again. Besides, the opportunity to gain reputation on the basis of ratings might provide further incentives to partake.

Jeannette Schwarz

Backstage strives to help the lecturer become aware of what the students think and what they find difficult

The Lecturer's Awareness

Of course, passivity of students also has adverse effects on the teaching. In large lecture classes the lecturer is remotely aware of the students' difficulties and thus has only few opportunities to react accordingly, e.g. respond to questions or encourage students to keep tackling the difficult topic. Backstage is specifically conceived to also support the lecturer during lecturing.

Message Ranking

Students express relevance of messages using rating. On the basis of ratings the lecturer can be provided with a very brief and thus quickly legible excerpt of the backchannel discourse. The messages are presented in the order of relevance and allows the lecturer to easily become aware of what bothers the students most.

Jeannette Schwarz


Backstage provides the means to conducting quizzes during lectures. Quizzes make possible to obtain feedback on the students' retention and knowledge at a regular basis. They also break up the lecture into smaller sections and thus provide structure. More importantly, however, quizzes can be used to call for active participation of students and introduce a playful element into the lecture making it more enjoyable and fun.

Backstage strives to be adaptable
to individual needs

The Student

The student decides in which way she wants to make use of Backstage. She can either engage in the backchannel or, in case she wants to focus just on the lecturer, use it as an enhancement for the lecture discourse. The range of functions provided are then restricted accordingly. For example, the student can freely choose to solely focus on the lecturer's discourse and use Backstage to just take personal notes and participate in the quizzes.

The Lecturer

Backstage is highly customizable by the lecturer as well. For example, the modes of communication can be adapted so as to disallow anonymous or private communication. The lecturer may also (temporarily) disallow sharing information between students altogether and establish a mere student-to-lecturer channel of communication on Backstage.


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