Educators in both traditional and online learning events have consistently recognized a link between teachers who demonstrate warm, friendly behaviors and the creation of welcoming interactive learning environments. One critical instructional strategy that facilitates a sense of community and fosters a learning climate rich in social presence is immediacy. While teachers in face-to-face classrooms often demonstrate immediacy non-verbally through facial expressions and body language, teachers in online learning environments may be required to project immediacy exclusively through written messages.
Adapting the construct of immediacy from communication theory to applications in higher education classrooms, Andersen (1979) introduced the idea of nonverbal instructional immediacy to college teaching. Andersen explained that immediacy is a nonverbal manifestation of high affect and is demonstrated through maintaining eye contact, leaning closer, touching, smiling, maintaining a relaxed body posture, and attending to voice inflection. Later, as summarized in Table 1, Gorham (1988) identified specific verbal expressions of instructional immediacy. Also, Christophel (1990) and Christophel and Gorham (1995) established that links exist among instructional immediacy, student motivation and affective learning.Table 1.
Verbal expressions of instructional immediacy (Gorham, 1988)
|• Use personal examples|
• Engage in humor
• Ask questions
• Initiate conversations with students
• Address students by name
• Praise student work
• Encourage student expression of opinions
Demonstrating instructional immediacy in online classroom environments is not straightforward. However, despite limited or absent non verbal visual cues, virtual teachers can still communicate likeability and a willingness to become affectively close to their students. While research studies in online learning may offer only moderate correlations between immediacy and cognitive learning, the experience of liking and feeling close to the instructor has been linked to positive effects in the classroom (Hess & Smythe, 2001). Correlations between immediacy and affective learning have been established (Baker, 2004). And, significant correlations between perceptions of the instructor’s presence with both affective learning and with student learning satisfaction have also been established (Russo & Benson, 2005). These outcomes are consistent with findings on teacher immediacy literature in traditional classrooms and they underscore the role of the teacher in establishing an engaging climate in any learning environment. Translating verbally immediate behaviors from face to face classrooms to online learning events includes responding promptly and adapting Gorham’s (1988) original suggestions(Arbaugh,2001; Baker, 2004; Hutchins,2003).