Good Practice Encourages Contacts Between Students and Faculty
Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of class is a most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students’ intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and plans.
Communication technologies that increase access to faculty members, help them share useful resources, and provide for joint problem solving and shared learning can usefully augment face-to-face contact in and outside of class meetings. By putting in place a more “distant” source of information and guidance for students, such technologies can strengthen faculty interactions with all students, but especially with shy students who are reluctant to ask questions or challenge the teacher directly. It is often easier to discuss values and personal concerns in writing than orally, since inadvertent or ambiguous nonverbal signals are not so dominant. As the number of commuting part-time students and adult learners increases, technologies provide opportunities for interaction not possible when students come to class and leave soon afterward to meet work or family responsibilities.
The biggest success story in this realm has been that of time-delayed (asynchronous) communication. Traditionally, time-delayed communication took place in education through the exchange of homework, either in class or by mail (for more distant learners). Such time-delayed exchange was often a rather impoverished form of conversation, typically limited to three conversational turns:
1. The instructor poses a question (a task).
2. The student responds (with homework).
3. The instructor responds some time later with comments and a grade.
The conversation often ends there; by the time the grade or comment is received, the course and student are off on new topics.
Now, however, electronic mail, computer conferencing, and the World Wide Web increase opportunities for students and faculty to converse and exchange work much more speedily than before, and more thoughtfully and “safely” than when confronting each other in a classroom or faculty office. Total communication increases and, for many students, the result seems more intimate, protected, and convenient than the more intimidating demands of face-to-face communication with faculty.
Professor Norman Coombs reports that, after twelve years of teaching black history at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the first time he used email was the first time a student asked what he, a white man, was doing teaching black history. The literature is full of stories of students from different cultures opening up in and out of class when email became available. Communication also is eased when student or instructor (or both) is not a native speaker of English; each party can take a bit more time to interpret what has been said and compose a response. With the new media, participation and contribution from diverse students become more equitable and widespread.
Encourages contacts between students and faculty
The Internet provides several means of communication between faculty and student–email, discussion, and text and audio chat. Frequent communication not only enables faculty to deliver or clarify content, but communication is thought to reduce feelings of isolation and increase motivation in distance learners.
Challenges: Teachers and learners alike often find that online communication increases the workload in distance courses significantly.
Can you suggest ways in which this workload can be managed or reduced?