October 12, 2012

Do Students Like Your Communication Style?

By: in Faculty Evaluation

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Should instructors care whether or not students find their exchanges satisfying? They should, because as this research (and previous studies) document, those levels of satisfaction correlate positively and significantly with something these researchers call “affective learning.” Affective learning involves student feelings and emotions toward the subject matter and the teacher.

When those feelings are positive, they impact levels of motivation and cognitive learning in direct and measurable ways. What’s being explored here empirically makes a lot of intuitive sense as well. Most of us have experienced first-hand the “good vibes” generated when students in a class are reacting positively.

How are positive feelings about a course and instructor generated? Communication plays a central role. It matters what the instructor says in front of the whole class and in individual interactions—such was when students request information, ask about course content, exchange greetings, or ask a personal question.

As in other research reports, the instrument developed and used in these studies is included in the article referenced below. It contains 24 items in its long version and eight in a shorter version.

Here are some sample items from the instrument:

  • I usually feel positive about my conversations with my teacher.
  • My teacher makes an effort to satisfy questions I have.
  • I feel comfortable talking with my teacher.
  • I wish my teacher was better at communicating with me.
  • My teacher genuinely listens to me when I talk.
  • My teacher makes time for me when I want to talk to him/her.

It is interesting to speculate what students might have to say about their communication with you, but with this instrument, and others like it, you can anticipate student responses by completing the form at the same time students do. Comparing a self-assessment with student feedback is a great way to learn more about the impact of teaching efforts on students—in this case the impact of communication exchanges.

Because the instrument is specific and detailed, it enables identification of areas of strength and weakness. As important is whether or not you can trust your assessments. If what you believe about your communication with students is verified by their feedback, that knowledge enables teaching with greater confidence. If not, the feedback offers insights that can lead to more accurate assessments of student responses. This applies not just to student-teacher interactions but to whatever aspect of teaching or student learning you and your students are assessing.

Instruments like this one can be used by practitioners to gain individual feedback. Obviously they cannot be used to collect research data without permission of the researchers.

Reference: Goodboy, A. K., Martin, M. M., and Bolkan, S. (2009). The development and validation of the student communication satisfaction scale. Communication Education, 58 (3), 372-396.

Excerpted from “Communication Satisfaction Scale,” The Teaching Professor, 24.10 (2010): 6, 7.

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