Student Anxiety and Correspondence, July 17

For Thursday’s assignment this week, I want you to look up some of the research in this area – you can search in the library databases or Google scholar, for example – and see what people are finding in their classrooms. Journals are also dedicated to this topic such as Distance Education, Computers and Composition, and Innovative Higher Education

Try these links as a starting point:

Effect of Distance Learning on Undergraduate Students
Comparison of Student Achievement in an Online versus F2F Class
Engagement, Excitement, Anxiety, and Fear

Then, consider how you prefer to communicate as both a teacher and student. There are many ways to communicate with students (in both online and blended/hybrid courses) and many ways for students to communicate with one another, so what do you think is the best approach? What is a policy you can adopt as a teacher in terms of correspondence? Think about methods of communication and how often you are willing to use them, particularly for students who need additional help.

Before midnight on Thursday, respond to this post and any replies ahead of you in the Comments.

Methods of communication to consider: Blackboard (discussion forums and Virtual Office Hours/Classroom), Skype, Google Hangout, Adobe Connect, email, text, and Twitter

11 thoughts on “Student Anxiety and Correspondence, July 17

  1. Krista Bradshaw

    WRIT 510 Student Anxiety and Correspondence
    P.S. I’m also making this a post on my blog just to be on the safe side.

    “Following a constructivist, collaborative orientation, the author believes that the most successful and satisfying online learning occurs when adult learners are in continual and fluid exchange with each other and with the instructor—exchanges that encourage the flow of both content and socially oriented information” (Conrad 208).

    The quote above is from Diane Conrad’s “Engagement, Excitement, Anxiety, and Fear: Learners’ Experiences on Starting an Online Course” and is an extremely concise and open-ended answer to the question this post poses—what can help alleviate student anxiety about online courses? As Conrad suggests, developing a rapport with students and helping students develop a community with their classmates is the ideal way to encourage relaxation and participation. Conrad further suggests that “optimally, the adult learning classroom becomes a community of learners with shared goals and character” (209). If students cannot see how they fit into the online classroom environment, then they are less likely to feel connected to other students. If instructors cannot properly develop an online personality that reflects who they are as both teachers and individuals, then the students will be unable to trust and identify with their teachers.

    Another important element in establishing a “safe zone” for online learners is to have the website up and running with assignments loaded in advance so that they can “’mentally prepare’” (211) for deadlines and gain knowledge about the CMS/website within which they will work. Adult learners, in particular, often have busy lives and prefer to know their assignment far in advance so they may schedule their work around their lives instead of the opposite, which is part of the overall appeal of taking online courses in the first place.
    Conrad defines the instructor’s role in education as “a facilitative and collaborative presence that invites peer interaction among learners and a more democratic sharing of responsibility than what may have occurred in some traditional classrooms” (212). Ultimately, if the instructor and the course design meet the expectations of the students, the students are less likely to experience stress and anxiety.
    It seems to me that, if students do indeed respond better to an engaging online presence from both instructors and peers, then a platform such as Blackboard that has live chat and discussion board options would be a wonderful option. Google Hangout, since it provides collaboration among users, would also be viable to establish such online relationships. Having virtual video chats can help students, as Scott Warnock suggests, see that “there is a real teacher” out there, and personally, putting a face to a name is helpful to me as a student. When I have had instructors for online courses who have not included a photo, I have looked them up to put a face in my mind.

    Mark Pearcy’s article entitled “Student, Teacher, Professor: Three Perspectives on Online Learning,” recommends Elluminate as a great way to reach students from afar, labeling it “engaging, collaborative, and dynamic” (173). He also places high priority on chats, both between the instructor and student and the student and his/her classmates, and video conferencing. One of the problems Pearcy recalls from his own online teaching experience is that “students who had difficulty with assignments of conceptual understanding would have to make their problems clear via email” (175). He also states that “the sheer number of assignments, documents, and deadlines became, if not overwhelming, then tedious at least and occasionally disabling at worst” (175). Pearcy has acknowledged two major contributors to student anxiety about online courses. First, some students really need more one-on-one attention or assistance than others, especially those students who have trouble following directions, thinking critically, or organizing their work. Secondly, students may get confused and then feel overwhelmed by deadlines, especially when they can view all deadlines up front. Sometimes, students need reminders to divide their assignments and prioritize, concentrating on immediate needs first.

    I feel that, if I ever teach a course online, I would prefer to do frequent online collaboration through both discussion boards and synchronous chats. Although I cannot stand to be videoed or hear my own voice, I would recognize the importance of being a “real person” and submit to these technologies willingly. I would make sure to be organized and ahead of schedule as much as possible, and I know it would be important to routinely and frequently reply to emails and other modes of communication from my students. I would also offer face-to-face office hours, if students were nearby, and probably group study sessions. I would also have several “visitors” go to my class website/CMS and view my layout to provide feedback on how user friendly and accessible the information is so that I may make changes prior to the semester beginning.

    Student anxiety about online courses is based off of legitimate concerns, albeit concerns that can be easily overcome. Once students and educators alike can recognize methods to overcome potential obstacles, online courses can become less of a challenge and more of an enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

    Works Cited
    Conrad, Dianne L. “Engagement, Excitement, Anxiety, and Fear: Learners’ Experiences of Starting an Online Course.” American Journal of Distance Education. 16:4, 2002. Web. 16 July 2014.
    Pearcy, Mark. “Student, Teacher, Professor: Three Perspectives On Online Education.” History Teacher 47.2 (2014): 169-185. History Reference Center. Web. 17 July 2014.

  2. Melissa Gilbert

    Online courses can be difficult for some students. Communicating online can also cause a significant amount of stress. Many students who enroll in online courses do so because it fits their schedule in a way that traditional courses do not. According to “Predictors for Student Success in an Online Course,” “Age is seen as another student characteristic in research studies, since distance education is viewed as very suitable to adults. The convenience, flexibility, and self-pacing of distance-education courses or programs are especially beneficial to them” (72). This is entirely true. I am enrolled in this course because my schedule is extremely full. I have to do most of my work and “class attendance” on the weekends. I am juggling teaching, cleaning houses, and running my own freelance editing business. Not to mention that I am also raising a daughter, a Girl Scout leader, running an online writing critique group, managing a book review blog, enrolled in two graduate classes, and preparing for oral comps. It’s a tad busy in Melissa-ville. Thus, I enrolled in online classes this summer so that I could earn my education on my time.

    Many older students, however, get some anxiety when they are faced with new technology. I remember when my mother was taking classes online for her bachelor’s degree, she often posted things in the wrong place and even sometimes completed the wrong assignments because the instructors did not give clear directions or did not communicate clearly. It was a very frustrating and anxiety inducing experience for her. Luckily, I love technology, so I am able to function well in an online class.

    As a teacher, I am very quick to reply to my students when they contact me. I do not, however, like to talk on the phone. I don’t hear well unless I can see the person talking, so phone conversations or Skype conversations are quite difficult for me. I often misunderstand. Thus, I tell my students up front that my preferred method of communication is email. I tell them I will also gladly accept text messages if the question is short. I promise the students that they will get a very prompt response to an email, but a phone call might be delayed because I will have to wait until I am in a very quiet environment before retuning the call. I often respond to emails within minutes because they come to my iPhone.

    In an online class, I tell my students to use the discussion board for general questions because other students might have the same question, but if they have a personal question, they should email me privately. So far, I have never had a complaint about my level of communication, and I have actually had quite a few students mention how much they appreciated the prompt replies.

    In the CMS itself, I am very clear with directions, usually build the entire course before the semester starts, and always give feedback within a week. If for some reason I do not post an assignment before the semester begins, I always give the students 1-2 weeks (depending on the complexity of the assignment) to complete it. For example, I generally do not “release” the weekly discussion questions until the week the students are in, but they always have the whole week to submit their responses.

    My goal as a teacher is not to just teach the material. I also want the students to be comfortable, feel free to ask me questions that they have, and to enjoy the course.

    Work Cited
    Yukselturk, Erman, and Safure Bulut. “Predictors for Student Success in an Online Course.” Journal of Educational Technology & Society 10.2 (2007): 71-83. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 July 2014.

    Side note: I didn’t see this assignment posted until yesterday, and I do most of my class work on the weekends, so I apologize if it is not detailed enough. I’m trying to get it done between jobs.
    I am also going to post it on my blog.

    1. Krista Bradshaw

      I agree that it is even more necessary to communicate well with students online as it is in person. It could be so easy to be misunderstood online otherwise.

    2. Krista Bradshaw

      Guys, I’m sorry I am just replying. I was in bed asleep by the time your posts were up–you all must be night owls! 🙂

  3. Kelly Medley

    Okay, this is the third time I have tried to write this with my iPad and it keeps canceling me out. My laptop is on the fritz, and I’m extremely frustrated at the moment, so I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I apologize in advance for any wonky misspellings or weird formatting. I obviously prefer to write longer assignments with a laptop, but that is not possible at the moment.

    Like Krista stated about the Conrad article, “continual” and “fluid” correspondence is key in assuaging student anxiety over online learning (208). To me, fluid means consistent policies matched with succint instruction. I feel like a lot of students’ fears can be assuaged if an instructor is clear with his or her expectations and keeps directions simple and direct. Warnock really hits on this in his book because it’s obviously an important element to etching online courses effectively. Also, instructors should keep continual conversations going through out the duration of a course. If I were teaching an online course, I would adopt a policy where it is mandatory for students to check in with me once a week for a grade. This can be via Skype, BlackBoard virtual hours, or Google hangout. I would also set clear guidelines for when I will be available online and checking email. I don’t check email through the night, and I think there should be certain parameters. Therefore, I might state that students can expect a reply from me before 9pm if the email the same day. Of course, I will be consistent with this rule.

    I also think routine is very important when dealing with online anxiety. In “teachers school” I was taught the the number one way to curtail classroom bad behavior is to set up classroom routine week in advance. While students can’t really misbehave online, I think the concept is still relevant. I agree with Krista in that posting material well in advance for students to peruse can eliminate any “surprises”. I also think sticking to a schedule and having set deadlines will help the overall feel of a course. I’ve always liked warnocks idea of posting a weekly schedule on Monday and then reiterating due dates, etc. throughout the week.

    Finally, unlike Krista, I am not a fan of message boards. I feel like they become redundant and students just go through the motions of stating what they think the professor wants to read in order to get the credit. I can’t tell you how many times I dreaded posting to a message board in my last online class. Someone always got to my idea first, and I always got stumped. I prefer the blog method we have going on in this class, and I would use so etching similar were I to teach online.

    1. Krista Bradshaw

      I completely agree that message boards can be irritating, especially if everyone responds to the same thing. I like to divide questions among students so that none of them get the same question on my f2f class when I use message boards and then just have them respond to one another. That method prevents redundancy. For example, I’ll assign each “team” a reading selection, and each team member will have one question to answer. Then, all students have to reply to x number of posts.

      You are so right that consistency and predictability are important. An agenda in advance can truly alleviate behavior problems!

  4. Simone

    According to “College Students and the Web of Anxiety” by Jean M. Twenge, levels of anxiety for college students in the 1990s would have put a student in the 1950s in the top 16% of anxiety ratings.

    Some major causes of anxiety for both onsite and online students are obviously career expectations and relationships, but an anxiety factor that specifically effects online students is not feeling connected to their course.

    In his article, “How to Teach an Invisible Class,” Micheal W. Posey says that not getting a quick response through whatever modes of communication are used in an online course can cause a student to not feel completely connected. He suggests responding to students emails within 48 hours

    If I were a teacher (especially of a class taught completely online), I would prefer to communicate through the website where I conduct my class (if I had the option to use a site such as Ning). My students would have to visit the website a couple of times a week to do their assignments, so they would for sure receive my response in a timely manner.

    As a student, I am fine with communicating through email, but because I have so many email accounts on different websites (personal, professional, and school emails) it can be a bit overwhelming trying to check all of my accounts and responding every week.

    Another upside of communicating through the class website is that things such as announcements that go out to the entire class can be posted out in the open. Sometimes important messages go to the “Spam” folder, or if a message is sent to multiple people, it may not get to everyone (it has happened to me a few times).

    A teacher can ensure that correspondence goes smoothly with his or her students by setting specific days (if the teacher has a lot on his or her plate) to check his or her email, and students need to be informed at the start of the class which days are best to send an email or stop by the office if the class is blended.

  5. Kelly Medley

    Melissa, I like your input about using discussion boards to post general questions for the good of the group. Now that is a way to use message boards and not feel like you have to beat someone to the punch!

    And one final shoutout to Krista! I assumed that Google hangout is just like Skype? Am I right? I’ve only used it to talk with Cale when I’ve been out of town, but can you do other things with it? And finally, I like your statement that a course and instructor should meet the expectations of the students. I think this disconnect happens too often and then students are left with a negative attitude early on in the course. And providing photo is a must!

  6. Rebecca Bridges

    Student Anxiety and Correspondence

    Anxious, you walk into a class on exam day as you – a student – nervously attempt to recall every detail from the study guide or your notes. Palms sweat. Forehead perspires and aches. You shake your hands. Maybe you tap your foot. The same anxiety exists for students in an online, hybrid course, or f2f class with mix-use technology.

    Flipped Classroom Anxiety

    In Monday night’s research blog, I mentioned some concerns college students experience with flipped classrooms. According to Educause in its article “7 Things You Should Know About … Flipped Classrooms,” “The flipped classroom is an easy model to get wrong” because it requires “careful preparation” (2). Considering students with disabilities such as hearing impairments, captions in flipped classroom lessons can help. But, students face anxiety for different reasons whether it’s how a flipped classroom works or does not work with their disability, the professor responds, or access to technology.

    Disabilities and Access

    As a teacher assistant working with students with different neurological disabilities, I think a lot about how a hybrid or mix-use classroom would cause students’ anxiety. I have also worked with many students who lack or have limited access to the Internet and technology. Jeffrey Stowell, Wesley Allan, and Samantha Teoro argued in “Emotions Experienced by Students Taking Online and Classroom Quizzes” that one of the causes of student anxiety in an online or hybrid classroom is test anxiety, and that teachers should “also be concerned about possible disadvantages to students who do not have computer access at home, which would necessitate that these students access a computer lab” (94). Access to computers and the Internet is a significant concern for some students. I think it is easy for some teachers to assume that students taking an online or hybrid course have access. They may take the class because it is required, and have decided to figure out what to do about Internet access when the class starts.

    Testing

    In addition to concerns about access, Stowell, Allan, and Teoro found that students who experienced less anxiety in class “had significantly higher text anxiety” in a survey about emotions for a psychology study after taking online quizzes (93). One reason students worry deals with the teachers’ use of “‘item banking'” in which different questions are used for different students (94). Scott Warnock has repeated in various chapters in Teaching Writing Online that if a CMS can select random questions for different students on a timed quiz, it reduces chances of cheating. Warnock has also stated that to reduce anxiety with quizzes make them easy, short, and part of low-stakes testing. No matter how a teacher approaches online quizzes, some students will still deal with anxiety. What teachers can do is find ways to reduce anxiety for testing, flipped classrooms, and student access to technology.

    Communication

    I think communication is extremely important, if not more important, between teachers and students in a hybrid or mix-use classroom because the conversation evolves from discussions and lectures in a traditional f2f to what makes up an online environment. I use hybrid and mix-use classroom because I anticipate teaching either hybrid classes or classes which use a lot of technology in the classroom. From reading and discussions in Dr. Kavin Ming’s READ 645 class, I have learned students can teach instructors many lessons about technology. There might be a tool or access issue the teacher faces, and one of the technological savvy students helps the teacher solve the issue. In this situation, the classroom become student driven incorporating the student’s talents. The teacher allows for student leadership. To communicate through example becomes one of the teacher’s most powerful assets because he or she discovers what works and what does not work for particular students.

    But, not every student is ready to approach a leadership role. Students still have doubts or concerns about how to communicate in a hybrid environment. Two tools I like for communicating with students in a hybrid or online course include Skype and Twitter. Skype is a great synchronous tool allowing for face-to-face time with the teacher. It may ease student anxiety by having one-on-one time with the teacher. I have always thought putting a face with a name helps establish a connection, and that should not change in an online environment. By using Skype or posting a video, Warnock writes that it “can help lock students back into the idea that you are a real teacher” (145). You want students to be invested in the course, and I believe they are only invested to the extent they perceive their instructors is invested in the course.

    A middle school principal in Kings Mountain, N.C. once told me one of the best quotes I’d ever heard regarding middle school students. “To them, everything is all about perception.” I believe this quote extends to high school, and to a degree, to underclassmen in college. How students’ perceive teachers and their investment of time plays a significant role in student participation, interaction, and anxiety. To help students’ comfort in a course, get to know them. Early in Teaching Writing Online, Warnock writes that teachers can use ice breakers online to get to know students. I believe you can do this throughout the course. Teachers can use a tool like Twitter to find out details about a student’s interests, and how to incorporate them into the course.

    Twitter can be a great tool if the professor uses it regularly, and discusses before the class officially takes off how students use Twitter. I think the best way to communicate this is either through email or a discussion thread on the professor’s class website. Students can express what they like or dislike about using Twitter. The professor or teacher knows ahead of time. Using that information, teachers create a sense of community online.

    Bibliography

    Educause Learning Institute. “7 Things You Should Know About … Flipped Classrooms.” Educause. 2012. Web. 13 July 2014.

    Stowell, Jeffrey, Wesley Allan, and Samantha Teoro. “Emotions Experienced by Students Taking Online and Classroom Quizzes.” Journal of Educational Computing Research 47.1 (2012): 93-106. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson) Web. 16 July 2014.

    Warnock, Scott W. “Pacing and Predictability: Help Students Get Comfortable in the OWCourse.” Teaching Writing Online. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2009. 143-146. Print.

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