«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»
Teacher Immediacy: Professors and Communication The need for communication is not only important among students, but it is also important among the professor and students. Interestingly, participants had different preferences for communicating with the professor depending on who initiated the communication. When professors needed to communicate with students, six participants said they preferred that the instructor contact them by email; three preferred face-to-face communication, and one preferred phone communication. However, when students initiated the communication, four participants preferred to call, three desired face-to-face communication; two wanted text, and one was indifferent. The professor for the online world literature class documented the major source of her correspondence to students.
She wrote, Because one of the main methods of communication in this course is through email, you must know how to send and retrieve messages from your ________ (school name acronym) email account. Students who do not respond to my emails run the risk of being dropped from the course, so please check your email several times a week. (OC, 6/6/10) Interestingly, the need for interaction for students often went beyond a desire for a high level of communication with other students. Seven participants also wanted a high level of communication from the professor as well. There were over 21 announcements by the online world literature professor; however, the instructor did not participate in any of the six online discussions (OC, 6/6/10). Her level of participation was noted in the syllabus. She wrote, “I will not participate in all of the discussions, but I may ‘drop-in’ from time to time, especially if I need to ‘referee’ a discussion” (OC, 6/6/2010). Also documented in the syllabus were six hours of on-campus office hours, and an additional hour of online office hours (OC, 6/6/10).
For Tenille, an instructor’s involvement early in the online course is important to helping students learn online. She discussed how the instructor could help students avoid frustrations when working online. More definitive instruction was needed for her to succeed in the online learning environment. In referring to posting essays and communicating about the course online process, she cautioned, Instructors at the beginning of the class need to make sure and need to get that understanding on how to help students understand how they are to post the essay.
And that students understand how to get in contact with the instructor if there is a problem. They should basically communicate early on about the online process. I remember this one online class that I took; it was a traditional class, but we were meeting online. So I wanted it to look like a face-to-face class and the teacher just said okay go to Blackboard, but a lot of us did not know how to do that. And it was because they had not been exposed to it yet. I think is very important is to make sure that everyone understands the process. When I first started taking online classes this summer—like the password, I thought was the same as what I had for e-mail, and I had get help from the Help Desk a few times just until I got the hang of it. The first few weeks, I think, you know that there should be an attempt to seek out the students. The instructor should find out if they’ve (their students) ever had online class before and find out what their needs are. Even if it was a phone call to say, ‘I know you signed up for my class, I want to make sure you know how to post material.’ Or they could even send it to e-mail giving students detailed information on how to access the site and submit things properly. And I think that would help just throughout the semester, just on how things are done. (PI, 5/11/10) Tenille also added how a professor’s frequent participation could have increased her quality of responses to the discussion board in the course. She said, “She did say that from time to time she would come in and try to moderate. But I didn’t see it at all. I think my answers would’ve been more thorough (giggles) had she given me more feedback” (PI, 5/11/10).
Like Tenille, Joshua also saw a connection between the teacher’s involvement in the discussion as related to how students performed in the course. To him, a professor’s connection to her students could help students gain interest in the subject matter, even if the student is not motivated in learning the material. Perhaps, the professor’s more direct, intentional interaction with individual students could enhance the student’s learning. He
... a professor should reach out to her students. Not only to just teach the subject, but also be able to grasp where their students are at. They should not only make the learning experience a great learning experience, but at the same time even if students don’t have interest in it, they can provide some interest to it. (PI, 5/12/10) In other words, the professor should model the motivation in learning the subject that the students should have.
Like Tenille and Jemaine, Angel also found that communication with the professor created interest in the course. She talked about the importance of dialogue in
creating a supportive and lively classroom environment:
They would be supportive. There will be open dialogue. I’ve taken classes where the teacher does lectures, and I get bored really quickly. I like it when we’re engaged so much with the teacher, but we’re engage with one another, too. (PI, 5/11/10) Angel also discussed how a professor’s participation in an online environment helped to recreate the experience of learning in a traditional classroom. As such, she said she
wanted to see a great level of participation from her instructor:
I wish the instructor would’ve participated more in the discussion more. For me, personally, I think there should be more interaction even though it is an online course. I would like for it to be like it was in the classroom. One of my instructors had a chat, and I wish she would have made it available in the afternoon and also have some in the evening. But just something so you could ask questions. I always felt like I didn’t get something. (PI, 5/10/10) For India, the level of interaction by the online world literature teacher was pertinent to her enjoyment of the course. India discussed how the professor’s involvement helped to
establish her as an authority and also helped students communicate openly:
She was very good. She interacted with us enough to where we could grasp her being our instructor and grasp what she was trying to say. She also gave us the freedom to express ourselves. (PI, 5/14/10) To Jasmin, the professor’s involvement in the course indicated how she felt about teaching and that she genuinely cared about her students. When she described a really
good class, she said of professors:
They ask questions, you can ask questions, and they answer them and they’re willing to help you. And they’re interesting, and they don’t read thing out of the book. I can tell they enjoy what they teach that not one of those teachers have a ‘I got mine, you get yours’ attitude. And a lot of them, they have a personality, and they interact with the students. (PI, 5/14/10) Badesha agreed when she said that the interaction with the instructor is necessary to
affirm students’ efforts about their progress in the course:
I think the accessibility to the instructor—to be able to ask questions and get a response back makes a good class. There would be online chats so you would be able to be online. There would be office hours online. They ought to have office time so that you could just chat where in one could enter into conversation to ask questions. To make sure you’re going in the right direction. (PI, 5/12/10) Sheila talked about how she wanted to know that the instructor had actually read her comments in the discussion board. She wanted to know that the professor valued her participation and did not just make posts without knowing the students’ opinions about discussion topics. Like Angel, Sheila perceived that doing so would emulate traditional classrooms. She said that she wanted instructors to communicate with students online in
similar ways to face-to-face instruction:
I’m looking at the post by the instructor. I’m looking to see that they have actually read some of the posts that the students have put in the discussion board instead of just putting down what they think and just disregarding what the student has put down. Because if it was a traditional classroom setting, the responses by the instructor will be based on what the students are saying. So, I would expect the same thing of the post that the instructors are making an online. (PI, 5/13/10) Most importantly, Sheila talked about how open communication was vital to fostering a good learning environment. She discussed how slow responses and a sense that instructors did not welcome questions can ruin student morale. In describing an excellent class, she said, I would have the ability to be honest. If there’s some sort of problem in the class, I should be able to tell the instructor what the problem is and get a response back from her. I’ve found that some instructors online, either they haven’t responded in a timely manner and then I have a couple of online instructors where we’re made to feel that if you asked a couple questions then, you did not have the right to ask.
They made you feel bad about asking that question. (PI, 5/13/10) Sheila further explained how the instructor’s unwillingness to accommodate
student questions could have been detrimental to student performance. She said:
It’s mostly a tone issue. You can tell by the way that they responded they did not appreciate you asking that question and that your asking could be a problem. It may be something you need for a particular assignment right then, but they may take a long time responding. That [teacher response time] can make a difference between you passing or failing an assignment. (PI, 5/13/10) Outside of the interaction, six participants discussed how the success of the course hinged around the professor’s ability to communicate specifically. As such, participants said that they wanted the instructor to provide a detailed syllabus and communicate clear expectations about course assignments. Therefore, the professors’ planning and presentation of the material were important to students’ perceptions about the quality and enjoyment of the course. The syllabus for the online course contained important due dates for assignments and exams along with grade weights for assignments (OC, 6/06/10).
Amy said that the role of the instructor in an online course is a big responsibility
because the professor’s organization was a major means of facilitating students’ learning:
The instructors are very important when you’re online. How a person is organized, if this person is going be clear with the information, if they can communicate and respond in timely manner and things like that are very important. It is a big responsibility when you’re online instructor. (PI, 5/12/10) In order to meet the professor’s expectations, Sheila emphasized the importance of the professor’s syllabus, active participation, and clear presentation of course assignments in order for things to run smoothly for students and the instructor. She
They need to have a clear syllabus and outline, be expected to respond back in a timely manner to the students, and to be available to answer questions that may be asked, and have stuff in a clear manner. They should have everything up there to know what was expected of me, but if it is not presented in a clear manner, and I’m confused it will make things harder on everybody. (PI, 5/13/10) Sheila further added how the instructor’s preparation is pertinent to good classes. She reiterated, “What would make the class for me is you’re getting the information that you need in order to be able to function, so you’re not only getting information from the instructor, but you’re getting feedback” (PI, 5/10/10).
Furthermore, the professor’s preparation was important to online students because students needed clear instructions to complete assignments. Sheila commented on the role of students being hinged around the expectations of the instructor.
I want them to do what is expected of them as the assignments are due and the dates are out. They need to meet the deadlines when they’re supposed to and to just participate in the discussion board and to just do what is being asked of them.
Tenille also indicated how the student’s role is to meet the instructor’s expectations. In
her description of the role of the student, she said students were to:
Basically making sure they know what the syllabus is, and that they understand what the teacher is using to grade the assignment. ‘So what did she expect for an A type paper? Just what is she looking for in terms of being knowledgeable about what the instructor’s expectations are?’ [Students] are to turn in the course work on time, or be on time, and make as many classes as possible.
India also agreed when she said that instructors should have a structured way of presenting information. According to her, instructors should “present the information in an organized format, not just one topic here in another topic there” (PI, 5/14/10).
Similarly, Jasmin also highlighted the importance of instructor clarity. She said instructors should “be available to the student and put as much information up there as possible and be as specific as they can about what students should do because some of them can be kind of vague” (PI, 5/14/10).