Engaging With Online Graduate Students

Engaging With Online Graduate Students

Matthew David Fazio (Robert Morris University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2682-7.ch012
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The academic landscape has been in a state of flux since the inception of online degrees. In addition to fully online colleges and universities, traditional accredited institutions are adding fully online programs. However, one area that could be supported with further research is the pedagogy of online teaching for graduate students. Teaching online has a whole host of challenges, and so does teaching graduate students; to best serve students, educators must maintain the connectedness and community required by distance learning while simultaneously meeting the intellectual rigor necessary for a graduate course. This chapter will identify three potential ways to foster better communication through philosophically grounded pedagogies between graduate students and instructors including student-centered methods of communication, marketplace application, and group collaborations.
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Background And Methods Of Communication

A clear channel of communication between students and instructors is one of the most important factors in a successful online course. Distance learning requires a different set of standards in communication because it lacks the immediacy and the face-to-face interaction.

Nuances of communication such as tone of voice, pitch, body mannerisms, hand gestures, and emphasis on particular words are all lost due to mediated communication. Depending on the style of online class, synchronous or asynchronous, there could be some restrictions on the type of communication used. When choosing a medium of communication, it is important to remember the message may not carry the same meaning.

Media richness theory attempts to explain this phenomenon. Daft and Lengel define media richness theory as “the ability of information to change understanding within a time interval” (1987). Their seminal study helps to rate various forms of communication. Richer forms of communication, such as face-to-face interaction and video conferencing, are seen as effective forms of communication. Then, the telephone would be rated near the middle of the graph. Finally, communications such as letters, emails, bulk mail, and posters would be seen as leaner mediums lacking effectiveness in communication. The general principle is that the more one is distanced from the message’s receiver, the leaner the medium will be.

The 20-year-old study obviously would need to account for additional forms of communication such as text messages and social media interactions, but the concept still holds true. If an instructor is separated from the intended receiver and only sends out emails to the class, students will likely not feel truly connected to the instructor or the class itself.

Media richness theory has a direct application to online instructors because each time an instructor chooses a medium to communicate with a particular student, the instructor has control over the richness of that message. However, just because one method of communication is a richer medium does not mean it is always feasible.

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