Teacher-student connection: the key to taking the remoteness out of remote learning
Remote learning is a beneficial tool to many people with limitations to using physical facilities, but it is nevertheless a difficult experience. University courses are always challenging, but the added social distance and communication barriers for remote education exacerbate those challenges. Nevertheless, 89% United States universities offer online courses and 46% students have completed at least one online course over their course, making online learning a cornerstone of modern education. With 63% higher education leaders regarding it as part of their long-term strategies, online education is here to stay, but its current challenges must be overcome to improve the effectiveness and attractiveness of the online medium. Moreover, particularly in the current global scenario where classes have almost exclusively moved to online venues in response to the coronavirus pandemic, understanding the dynamics of an online classroom is integral.
To this end, a research team including Professor Namkee Park from Yonsei University determined that it was important to “identify optimal ways to help students feel connected to the class, enjoy learning experiences, and reap benefits exclusive to online education.”
A mixed group of undergraduate communication students from a Midwestern United States university enrolled in at least one online course were given a questionnaire inquiring their interactions with teachers and overall satisfaction. These results were statistically analyzed and interpreted by Professor Park’s team against the backdrop of existing research.
Previous studies have established education as a social activity where teachers’ ‘social presence’ (the ability to feel the presence of an online teacher as a real person) directly affects the perceived educational outcomes of the course. In distance education, teachers’ social presence is only lightly felt, leading to a lack of relationship-building behaviors such as humor, eye contact, smiling, identifying students by name, and self-disclosure, the process of revealing personal details about the self.
To take a unique approach to the existing research, Professor Park and his team chose to study the act of teacher self-disclosure in isolation from other variables, eliminating interference from non-verbal cues, which cannot be expressed via distance education, to identify the unique effect that teacher self-disclosure has on the effectiveness of the class, and in doing so, to find opportunities to rectify these issues.
The data shows that “one out of five students searched information about their teacher,” which suggests that “students have a desire to want to know about their teacher.” Poor teacher-student relationships have been shown to reduce perceived learning outcomes, limiting the overall effectiveness of the course. This study makes it clear that withholding of personal details on the part of the teacher negatively affects these relationships and their own social presence, a fact the students seem to be aware of as they seek to rectify it by independently researching their teachers.
With the findings of Professor Park and his team’s study, teachers will be able to enhance their students’ learning experience by enhancing their social presence, even in remote online learning, ultimately leading to a vast improvement in teacher-student satisfaction.
updated in May 2020
Professor M. Jae Moon
Professor Jeonghye Choi