By Amy Erickson
When one thinks of misbehavior in the classroom, one tends to think of a disruptive student. In an online classroom, bad behavior can be magnified since students are behind a computer screen and not directly in front of their instructors and peers. Things may be written in an online forum that one would never say in a classroom…. But what if the instructor was the one misbehaving?
Before listening to Waldeck’s 20-Minute Mentor video, “How Can I Avoid Communication Misfires with Students?”, I typically only heard about students misbehaving. Waldeck’s video made it clear that instructor behavior is an incredibly important topic on account of the impact it can have on student learning and motivation.
The Importance of Being Likable
Waldeck (2015) starts out this lecture by discussing affect and how it is related to “students’ attitudes, beliefs, and values as they relate to what they’re learning in our courses” (para. 5). She goes on to say that “student affect, or positive feelings about the learning experience, mediates the relationship between you and students’ cognitive learning” (para. 8). So, put plainly, our students’ attitudes toward us, the instructors, influences their motivation level and their ability to learn. If you find yourself getting frustrated by students who are unmotivated, it may be an opportunity for you to examine your role in the relationship.
If we put ourselves in their shoes, it is easy to understand. Imagine you decided to pursue another degree and the professor was condescending, unavailable, and sarcastic. How excited would you be to engage with such an individual? How motivated would you be to study content or complete assignments this person presented as important?
Misbehaviors Defined: 3 Things to Avoid
Waldeck (2015) mentions three types of behavior that instructors should avoid; the first being “incompetent and ineffective teaching” (para. 11). That seems like it could encompass a great deal, but she shares some examples. It seems obvious that students would label disorganization, a monotone delivery, or the inability to clearly answer questions as ineffective (Waldeck, 2015, para. 11). However, I found it interesting that other frustrations include instructors who are “out of touch with what’s culturally relevant to students” or instructors who give “outdated examples” or are “unable to talk about the music, film, television or other current trends that our students are interested in” (para. 11). Consider how current events or popular culture can enhance comprehension or excite students about material you are studying. I have colleagues who specifically watched “Breaking Bad,” “Making A Murderer,” “Orange is the New Black,” and “Downton Abbey” just so they could relate to students and find creative ways to integrate contemporary culture into discussions.
The second type of misbehavior is indolence. “Examples of what researchers call indolence include being absent from class, tardiness to class, starting class late, seeming unprepared, forgetting due dates, and neglecting to collect assignments” (Waldeck, 2015, para. 14). Although online instructors may never be considered tardy, they definitely can be considered absent from the online classroom. Excelsior requires instructors to be in the classroom at least three or four days a week, depending on the length of the course being taught. Consider popping into the course daily to check My Messages or to see how the weekly discussion is progressing. Maybe you could find an interesting interview or podcast to share in the announcements, or you could check the grade book for late submissions. As I’ve discussed in earlier articles, instructor presence lets students know that you are there and available to them. Another way to demonstrate your attentiveness to their success is to grade work early in the week. Oftentimes, course material builds on the content from the previous week, so giving timely feedback helps students with the upcoming assignment, too. Timely feedback is a great way to exhibit dedication to your students and their success.
Finally, students understandably object to “offensive or antagonistic behavior; including belittling or embarrassing students, or being sarcastic” (Waldeck, 2015, para. 17). As instructors, we need to model professionalism and being offensive or embarrassing students is never an acceptable way to behave in the classroom. If you’ve read earlier posts of mine, you know that I believe negativity delays the learning process. Waldeck (2015) confirms this belief:
“What’s important to understand, though, is that these misbehaviors don’t just offend or upset students – they actually demotivate them and have a negative impact on learning outcomes in our courses” (para. 5).
What’s Communication Got to Do with It?
Student affect is not only incredibly important; it is something we can control. So, where do we start? We start every time we interact with a student. If you read my post from last week, you’ll remember the guidance for positive communication recommended in Ann Taylor’s 20-Minute Mentor video. She suggests asking these important questions in relation to our communication:
“Are you giving good response time? Are you available to your students? Do they feel like you’re accessible? Do you come across as a caring faculty member in things like emails and written discussion posts?” (Taylor, 2015, paras. 9-10). All these things contribute to the online environment and student perceptions of you and your class. If you cannot answer yes to these questions, you need to make changes immediately.
Checklist for Success
With so much at stake, it is imperative that we understand how perceptions of us and our communication affect learning and motivation in the classroom. I wholeheartedly recommend watching Waldeck’s video and viewing the additional shared resources. In the meantime, consider the following suggestions for enhancing our relationships with students in order to give them the best possible learning experience:
- Be approachable and positive
- Apologize to your students if necessary
- Be cautious with communication so you don’t come across as haughty or arrogant
- Emphasize your connectedness to them
- Avoid being boring
- Maintain clarity at all times
- Don’t underestimate the importance of students liking you
- Model the behavior you expect from them
- Be accessible, responsive, and sensitive (Waldeck, 2015, paras. 22-27).
Taylor, A. (2015). How can I get useful feedback to improve my online teaching? [Webinar]. In Magna 20-Minute Mentors. Retrieved from http://www.magnapubs.com/mentor-commons/?video=13857
Waldeck, J. (2015). How can I avoid communication “misfires” with students? [Webinar]. In Magna 20-Minute Mentors. Retrieved from http://www.magnapubs.com/mentor-commons/?video=13787