«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»
Sometimes I dislike that. I have a Blackberry to where I can get the information, and I can just hold on and listen and listen and listen as I’m in a rush. But you know with face-to-face, I can see the person talking and I can see what they’re saying and if they’re taking it the right way or the wrong way. I can see what kind of signals are being used. And sometimes when you’re online, if you’re putting things on paper, it may not come out the same way as if you would say it. When you’re typing or you’re texting, you can’t really be communicative, but I guess the best way for me is face-to-face. (PI, 5/12/10) Joshua discussed his desire to communicate with students face-to-face. He talked about communicating with students beyond the classroom subject matter and wanted to know what other students could tell him about finding jobs. He said, “If I am networking, I prefer face-to-face” (PI, 5/12/10). Related to classroom communication, specifically the chat feature in Blackboard, he still expressed a desire to talk to students face-to-face chiefly based on his unfamiliarity with other formats. He stated, “I would prefer face-toface. I can’t really say yes to the other one [the online chat]. I’m not knowledgeable about the tool” (PI, 5/12/10). Indications of Joshua’s preference for face-to-face communication can be identified in his participation in the online world literature course.
For some students, communication was not always black or white. Though students may have a primary preference for face-to-face communication, sometimes they adapted to the popular communication tools used by classmates. For example, Shannon, who ultimately liked to communicate face-to-face in order to interpret body language, recalled working with students on a project and spoke about her aversion to text
They texted and that drove me crazy. I thought, ‘Why don’t you just pick up the phone?’ I learned how to text. I’d rather talk than text, but it’s okay. I mean it’s not my preference. I prefer face-to-face which is really somewhat better. I like to share the interaction by looking at facial expressions. I want to know the body language of the interaction because I’m very much hands-on. I just prefer face-toface. (PI, 5/10/10) Jasmine also indicated a desire to communicate via telephone as a general communication preference. She also wanted to talk, “on the phone or in person” (PI, 5/14/10) in her daily life as well as in classroom settings; however, when speaking with her peers she preferred face-to-face dialogue.
Like Jasmin, Badesha was another participant who preferred telephone communication at times and face-to-face communication at other times. She discussed her desire to meet with students face-to face in order to communicate. She said, “I like to do person-to-person or telephonic not the e-mail, not discussion boards. I like to just talk in person or telephone” (PI, 5/12/10). Interestingly, Badesha discussed a preference to meet with students one-on-one even if taking a class online. She spoke about her desire to be with other students in small groups. She went on to say, “Even if the class is online, people can exchange phone numbers and get together in a small group especially if they live in the same area” (PI, 5/12/00).
Students who preferred telephone communication valued social interaction, too.
Tenille spoke about her preference for talking during breaks and reaching people outside of the classroom setting. She said, “I like talking by phone especially during the breaks, and I like exchanging numbers and cell phone numbers so we can talk outside the classroom setting” (PI, 5/11/10). Out of all the participants, Tenille was the most communicative in the discussion thread. Her postings were three times the course average (OC, 7/10/10).
Mariah also wanted to talk on the phone with students. She recalled her dislike of Elluminate, an online tool which allowed the professor in an online psychology course to verbally communicate with students. To her, its use lacked the level of interaction she desired. For Mariah, class would have been better had it been conducted over the phone.
She recalled, I wanted talk by phone. In one class, we used Elluminate, and I hate it. Only one person can talk to the screen. Well, that’s really not interactive, if only one person can talk. I prefer telephone live session where everybody could call a certain number and everybody could just talk. I want it [communication] to be more realtime. I hate Elluminate. It was used once a month and was really a mess. (PI, 5/10/10) Mariah further discussed how Elluminate had many technical problems, often freezing and kicking students off the system. She also felt that writing in text-based format was too time consuming. Because Mariah is a member of Generation Y and many members of her generation like texting, when discussed textual means of communication, she responded that “I don’t want to write to them at all. I wanted to talk to them in standard English. No text messages or instant messages should be allowed in the classroom. It takes too much time” (PI, 5/10/10). Mariah’s aversion to text based communication was also seen in course observations. Often her posts to discussion threads failed to meet the length requirement as indicated in the syllabus. In addition, her postings seemed rushed and inattentive, often lacking proper spelling or punctuation (OC, 7/10/10).
There were only two students who preferred text-based communication. It was no surprise when India, the youngest participant and member of Generation Y, succinctly said, “My preference is to text message” (PI, 5/14/10). She also said that she preferred to talk to classmates via the discussion board on Blackboard which is also another textbased form of communication. Interestingly, her preference for text-based communication was not indicated in her actual participation in the course. Though India took the world literature course as a blended learning class, she only completed four of the 11 discussion threads required by the instructor (OC, 6/28/10).
For Angel, the other student who preferred text-based communication, email is her preferred method because she can set her own schedule. She said, “I liked the online e-mail in Blackboard. I liked the idea that I could work at midnight or six o’clock in the morning and that I can set my own schedule” (PI, 5/10/10). Additionally, Angel admitted
to using both texting and email to communicate with students:
E-mail works best for me. One time I worked on a project, we had to e-mail each other, but we realized that that didn’t work best. So we sent each other each other’s telephone numbers, and we started texting each other. But sometimes we would text saying, ‘Hey, check your e-mail. There is some information on there you need.’ It worked, and one of the students even had her school e-mail forwarded to her Blackberry. But before that I would just check my phone periodically. But it was a really good alternative. (PI, 5/10/10) Getting a High Off of Student Interaction and Support Nine participants in the study said that they needed a high level of interaction from classmates. Ninety percent of participants described a fantastic class as one that gave them the ability to interact with students. More specifically, Mariah said, “I love to interact with people” (PI, 5/10/10). In fact, Tenille described the role of the student in online courses as completing assignments and supplemental reading, as well as interacting with others. She said online students should, definitely read the assigned material. And to get an even better grade, they need to read some outside materials and submit the materials on time. And when there’s an assignment, they need to interact with other students, exchange ideas and opinions on the topic. (PI, 5/11/10) To Shannon, student participation determined the success of the class. She said, I think the students played a major role as students. They make the class. Without student participation, the class wouldn’t be a good class. We had a lot of interaction and a lot of people were serious. I got that through the work that they did. I could tell that they were serious. (PI, 5/10/10) Not only is the participation of students key to making a good class, but contributions that students make to each other was also important, too. Shannon explained, I feel as though that my participation was very active. I reached out to other classmates. [I] commented on other classmates and commented on their assignments, especially things that really touched me that I was able to relate to.
Even when assignments were a little challenging, I felt comfortable reaching out to classmates. ‘What do you think about this? How did you interpret this? What you think about this or whatever.’ (PI, 5/10/10) Because Blackboard does not indicate to whom students email, it is unclear whether emails were sent to students or the professor. Nevertheless, Shannon sent the most emails (15) via Blackboard than any other participant (OC, 8/08/10).
Valuing others’ contributions was important aspect of effective classes, too. To India, students “get along and openly communicate with each other. They listen to each other’s opinions and are able to bounce off of each other’s ideas. They listen and they participate” (PI, 5/10/10). Angel, too, valued the insights of her classmates. She admitted that even through email, she depended on classmates to help her understand how to complete assignments. She explained, I use e-mails quite a bit. I use e-mails and I had a group projects in one of my classes. So sometimes I would talk to other students and ask them to read my email. I would ask them, ‘Hey have you seen the assignment? Did you understand the assignment?’ Or something like that. (PI, 5/10/10) According to the non-participatory observations that I made Blackboard, none of India’s emails were sent via Blackboard (OC, 9/10/10). Perhaps many of India’s email messages were sent via private accounts outside of the Blackboard shell.
Just like Angel, Amy also depended on her classmates for help with her coursework. She discussed how classmates were key to helping other students when a student is not able to
come to class:
I really talk with other classmates. I usually share my phone number with them and give them that information so that just in case something happens and you’re not able to come to class, we will be able to share the answers.
Mariah found communicating with other students is important when professors are nonresponsive. She discussed how it was the student’s role to be there for each other in
order to provide information about assignments:
You’d actually have to use Blackboard and you ought to talk to one another on the discussion board and ask each other about the assignment because a lot of instructors don’t give feedback that quickly. It helps to ask of the student or hit somebody up on Facebook and ask questions about the class. (PI, 5/10/10) Open, interactive communication was a major desire for participants. So much so that when they mentioned ways to design a perfect online course, it always included a way for students to gather and share. Amy said, A great class is one in which the student and the professor are organized and communicate freely, and everyone will participate and be honest and share. I mean, I really enjoy classes, whether it’s online where people are free to communicate freely. I think that’s a good and ideal class.
Badesha echoed Amy’s sentiment. In her design of a perfect online class, she said that she would be sure to have some kind of chat feature. She explained that “I know I would have the interactive discussion with my students online. I would have a chat room available once a week so they could go and have discussions” (PI, 5/12/10). Tenille also had a desire for more classroom interaction online. She said with all of the technological advances that she wished classes could emulate a face-to-face meeting by use of Skype, a technology which would allow for students to see and hear the professor and each other.
I wish they would do it with Skype. So maybe like one day you could make it the class and you still want to hear the teacher and the interaction from the other students. You could at least do it with Skype or something like that. I’d love for that day to come. (PI, 5/11/10) Efforts of participants in the study were categorized as active, meaning that they completed all tests, discussion boards, and other assignments; lurker, meaning that they completed most assignments including discussion boards and tests; and nonparticipant, meaning they completed none of the assignments in the online course. Interestingly in my observation of the course, I noted how four of the participants were active participants in the course (Angel, Sheiva, Badesha, and Jasmin), six were lurkers (Shannon, Mariah, Tenille, Amy, Joshua, and India), and none of them were nonparticipants (OC, 6/6/10).
A chart which indicates each student’s participation in the course is located below in Table 3. It is important to note that the number of emails indicated did not differentiate between communication among students to students or to the professor. In addition, the number of emails represented only the number of emails sent through the Blackboard course shell and does not indicate the number of emails which may have been sent from campus or personal email accounts. Furthermore, India’s name contains an asterisk because she was the student who took world literature as a blended course; therefore, her posting requirements were different from the other nine participants.
Table 3 Course Participation
Note: Active Participant: Completes all assignments as indicated on the course syllabus Lurkers: Completes some of the assignments as indicated in the course syllabus Nonparticipants: Completes none of the assignments as indicated on the syllabus.