Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

How Much Communication Is Enough in Online Courses?-Exploring the Relationship between Frequency of Instructor-Initiated Personal Email and Learners' Perceptions of and Participation in Online Learning

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

How Much Communication Is Enough in Online Courses?-Exploring the Relationship between Frequency of Instructor-Initiated Personal Email and Learners' Perceptions of and Participation in Online Learning

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Faculty teaching online must play both intellectual and social, or "nurturing," roles (Mason, 1991). Faculty must balance substantive exchanges related to the subject matter with more personal (non-subject or non-content matter) student exchanges designed to build relationships and foster a sense of community (Dede, 1996; Wiesenberg & Hutton, 1995; Moller, 1998). These personal exchanges must be of sufficient quality (i.e., depth, tone, length) to communicate a sense of intimacy, openness and a desire for connectedness or community (Dolence & Norris, 1995). They must also be of a sufficient immediacy (Baker, 2001) and frequency to communicate a sense of co-presence and responsiveness to student needs (Boettcher, 1999).

But while most would agree that a "high degree" of faculty-student interaction is important (Kearsley, 2000), few would agree on levels of frequency or approximately how many contacts in any given setting is "high" enough to rise to the level of "sufficiency" when it comes to maintaining student relationships or fostering a sense of community among learners. Most researchers and scholars simply place the "impetus" on the individual moderator to develop an appropriate level of social presence in his or her specific class setting (Baker, 2001, p. 63). Little effort has been made to empirically support anecdotal "rules of thumb" or principles to help guide instructors' frequency of social interaction in various online course settings.

A lack of sufficient frequency of faculty-initiated communication with online students may be attributed to a number of variables, such as faculty computer illiteracy, faculty resistance to online education, different philosophical beliefs about the nature of communication online, and heavy faculty workloads. Furthermore, as class sizes grow in the online setting it becomes increasingly difficult for professors to respond in detail to every student request or give some students as much personal attention as they might need. When instructional team members or co-instructors are unavailable, the difficulty for faculty to address student needs or seem involved becomes even more pronounced. Faculty must then deal with complaints about the depth of faculty involvement and the quality of the course. Students simultaneously report feeling "disconnected" or lacking a sense of "belonging." Others indicate feeling overwhelmed by course work. Such complaints invariably lead to greater amounts of student procrastination, a lack of participation in required group discussion, increased program attrition, and poor faculty evaluations.

As a step toward better understanding the relationships between the frequency of instructor-initiated communication and learners' perceptions of and participation in online learning, this exploratory study reports on the following questions:

1. Will more frequent delivery of instructor-initiated personal (text-only) emails outside of required class discussion formats result in (a) more favorable learner perceptions of the faculty/student relationship, (b) higher learner perceptions of online community, and (c) a higher degree of learner satisfaction with the overall learning experience than will less frequent delivery of instructor-initiated personal (text-only) emails outside of required class discussion formats?

2. Will more frequent delivery of instructor-initiated personal (text-only) emails outside of required class discussion result in higher levels of student participation in required group discussion than will less frequent delivery of instructor-initiated personal (text-only) emails outside of required class discussion formats?

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

Student evaluations for several online courses at Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia, indicated low levels of satisfaction with the quantity and depth of faculty interaction. …

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