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A)tudes Toward Discussion Modali5es in Undergraduate

Human Sexuality Courses
Dana Autry, PhD; Dena Mullins, MA; & Alyssa Ham, BS (2015)

To determine whether an anonymous, online forum in
a human sexuality class improves student percep5ons
of the benet of discussion.

Classroom engagement has been shown to be an
important component of learning in higher educa5on.
Discussion and interac5on with other students assists
in this. However, in classes with sensi5ve content,
students are less likely to engage in discussion, for fear
of being judged. Likewise, the 5me of a tradi5onal
class period, by its nature, forces an end of
conversa5on before its natural comple5on. By u5lizing
an anonymous, asynchronous forum, students may be
more likely to par5cipate in meaningful discussion.
This study compared two 50-students sec5ons of a
university human sexuality course: one with
tradi5onal classroom discussion, and one with
anonymous asynchronous online discussion. Pre- and
post-test surveys were administered to measure
student percep5ons and a)tudes toward sensi5ve
class discussion.

Teaching sensi5ve subjects, such as human
sexuality, has a number of challenges. While
classroom discussion is valued for its contribu5on
to learning, there are two main problems than
undermine it: 5me and anonymity. Asynchronous,
online discussions have the poten5al to address
both problems. One study found that
asynchronous, online discussions signicantly
improved learning. Interes5ngly, they found no
objec5ve dierences in anonymous vs.
iden5able forums. They noted that mo5va5ng
students to par5cipate in the forums is crucial.1
Technology, such as online discussions, can
enable signicant learning when par5cipants can
access the tools at the 5me and place of their
choosing. However, its important to have a
moderator to ensure discussions are on-topic and
respecsul.2 Another study emphasized the desire
of the current genera5on to incorporate
technology into their rela5onships. Using
technology for students to beeer express
themselves led to improved communica5on
between roman5c partners and other
rela5onships.3 Finally, Davis presents several best
prac5ces in the teaching of human sexuality: a)
choosing relevant content, b) nego5a5ng student
expecta5ons, c) allowing mul5ple voices to be
heard, d) crea5ng a safe climate for student
learning, e) naviga5ng insensi5vity, and f)
underscoring changes in modern sexual scripts
and topics of interest.4 Supplemen5ng classroom
instruc5on with a monitored, asynchronous,
anonymous online discussion allows for students
to reect and expand upon their own thoughts,
share those thoughts with others in a safe
environment, and allow conversa5ons to progress
to their natural end without any 5me constraints.

Methods and Analysis


Sample: The sample consisted of 100 undergraduate students enrolled in one of two 50-person sec5ons of a human sexuality course at a large Midwestern university, both taught by the same
instructor. This course meets the Social Science requirement of the common core university curriculum. Its enrollment is mostly sophomores and juniors, with a few freshmen and seniors. A
variety of university majors take the course.

Interven5on: AXer the IRB-approved, informed consent was obtained, a pretest survey was administered to both class sec5ons at the beginning of the semester. Throughout the term, one sec5on
par5cipated in normal in-class discussion only. The other sec5on supplemented the same in-class discussion with a required, anonymous online discussion. At the end of the semester, both
sec5ons completed the post-test survey. 82 of 100 students (82%) completed pre- and post-test surveys. Survey ques5ons are listed in the results below.

Analysis: The principle inves5gator matched pre- and post-test surveys using three iden5ers: 1) What was the name of your favorite K-12 teacher/coach?, 2) Name of the street you grew up on
(pick most memorable), and 3) What is/was your maternal grandfathers occupa5on?, as well as class sec5on. Quan5ta5ve analysis was run through SPSS v21. Qualita5ve responses were manually
analyzed using a constant-compara5ve method un5l satura5on was reached.

7-Point Likert Scale

In-Class Discussion In-Class & Online Aggregate, both



How comfortable are you with

discussing sexuality-related topics
with fellow classmates? 1= Very
Uncomfortable; 7= Very


How comfortable (do you believe)

most people your age are in
discussing topics related to sex?
1=Very Uncomfortable; 7= Very







In your opinion, how much

discussion about sexuality occurs in 4.375
modern society? 1=Too Liele;
4=Right Amount; 7=Too Much






How knowledgable are you

regarding topics related to
sexuality? 1= I know almost
nothing; 7= I know a lot







How knowledgable are most people

your age regarding topics related to 4.050
sexuality? 1= Very Ignorant; 7= Very






How much do you expect to share

your personal opinions and
experiences during the course? 1= I 4.000
won't talk unless I have to; 7=I'm an
open book















How much do you expect your

classmates to share in discussion,
compared to you? 1=They will
share more; 4=About the same; 7=I
will share more
How much did your classmates
share, compared to you? 1= They
shared more; 4=About the same
amount; 7=I shared more







Qualita5ve Themes

Should class discussion be in-person or online?

In class you can get immediate feedback and clarify misunderstandings
In person desensi5zes the topics and make it easier to get comfortable talking
In person, so people have to be accountable about what they say
In person because students dont really u5lize online, just do enough to get by

Online, people have more 5me to think about what they want to say, go into
more detail
Online, everyone has equal chance to share their stories
Some things are too embarrassing to talk about in person, Im more honest

Pre-test Post-test Pre-test Post-test Pre-test Post-test

(N=40) (N=36) (N=42) N=40) (N=82) (N=76)

How comfortable are you with

discussing sexuality-related topics
with close friends/family? 1= Very
Uncomfortable; 7= Very

How much did you share your

personal opinions and experiences
during the course? 1= I didn't share
unless required; 7=I shared a lot

In-Person Discussion Only

In-Person and Online Discussion

Should class discussion be anonymous or iden5able?

People are more honest, less fear of being judged
More comfortable when talking to people I barely know
Privacy is really important, I wont share as much if I think people will tell my
business to others

People need to be more comfortable talking about sex, not hiding behind a
Makes people accountable for their comments
Details about people (gender, sexual orienta5on) would give context to their
People are more immature if they are anonymous
No preference

Depends on the topic: more controversial could be anonymous
People should have both op5ons, based on their comfort level

What was your opinion of class discussion?
Very important to hear others experiences and opinions, gave me perspec5ve

Made topics more real

Online boards let us con5nue discussion beyond class; nice for reec5on

Some students dominated conversa5on in class, making it hard for everyone to

Smaller group discussions might have helped students who were shy in class

What has changed about your a)tude toward everyday discussions about sex ?
Learned a lot about sexual iden55es and orienta5ons, especially transgendered

The general popula5on has a lot to learn, people need to get beeer at talking
about sex

My knowledge has grown and Im more comfortable talking with others

I feel more condent answering ques5ons from others

Learned a lot about myself and have a more open mind

Funded by: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Fellowship

Oce of Educa5onal Excellence
Ball State University

As expected, most students cluster around a mean of 5.0 on a

7-point likert scale. This indicates students tended to believe
they slightly skew toward feeling more knowledgeable about,
and more comfortable discussing sexuality. Post-test results
showed that while knowledge increased slightly, student
comfort remained steady, as did their percep5ons of others
comfort discussing sexuality. Interes5ngly, results were that
students appeared to grow more skep5cal about general
societys standards for discussing sexuality. Regarding the
interven5on, students without the online op5on contributed
substan5ally less to discussion than they an5cipated.
Students in the class plus online discussion group contributed
as they expected they would. In both groups, students
believe that class discussion is an important component to
their sexuality educa5on. Students had mixed opinions about
whether discussion should be in-class or online, and
anonymous or iden5able. They did seem to appreciate the
value of having an asynchronous, not 5me-limited vehicle for
discussion. Finally, their comments validated the value of
such courses in a university curriculum.
While this exploratory study was successful, it could easily be
replicated with a larger sample size, and include students
from other universi5es, as well as in other courses with
sensi5ve topics. Based on this studys ndings, it would seem
important to include both in-class and online, asynchronous
discussion in human sexuality courses. In-class discussions
should occur in small groups, to beeer ensure all students can
have a chance to share and get immediate feedback, as well
as allow for clarica5on. Online discussion should be oered
to allow students 5me to reect on their thoughts, and
con5nue the conversa5on to its natural conclusion. As
current literature reinforced students varied opinions on
anonymity, it is unclear which mode is most benecial.
Further study is needed. Finally, this interven5on
underscored the importance of human sexuality courses in a
university curriculum. Besides basic knowledge related to
their own body func5ons, they reported a greater
understanding of those with diering opinions and
experiencespar5cularly related to transgendered
individuals. One study found that adults who took a college
sexuality course were beeer equipped to discuss sexuality
topics with their own children.5 Students in our current study
also discussed their apprecia5on for how the course enabled
them to communicate beeer with partners and friends
regarding topics around sexuality. Universi5es can be on the
forefront of discovering how best to approach sensi5ve topics
within our curriculum and society in general.

1. Polat, N., Mancilla, R., & Mahalingappa, L. (2013). Anonymity and mo5va5on in
asynchronous discussions and L2 vocabulary learning. Language Learning &
Technology, 17(2), 57-74.
2. Bolloju, N., & Davison, R. (2003). Learning through asynchronous discussions:
Experiences from using a discussion board in a large undergraduate class in hong
kong. New York: ACM. doi:10.1145/863928.863936
3. Subrahmanyam, K., & Greeneld, P. (2008). Online communica5on and
adolescent rela5onships. The Future of Children, 18(1), 119-146. doi:10.1353/foc.
4. Davis, N.J. (2005). Taking sex seriously: Challenges in teaching about sexuality.
Teaching Sociology, 33(1), 16-31.
5. King, B. M., Parisi, L. S., & O'Dwyer, K. R. (1993). College sexuality educa5on
promotes future discussions about sexuality between former students and their
children. Journal of Sex Educa5on & Therapy, 19(4), 285-293.