ERIC Identifier: ED380847
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Sensenbaugh, Roger
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
How Effective Communication Can Enhance Teaching at the College
Level. ERIC Digest.
This Digest focuses on verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors in the
college classroom. The Digest reviews research on the kinds of behaviors
instructors (many of whom are graduate teaching assistants) exhibit, and
students' reactions to and attitudes about those behaviors.
For better or worse, in most large colleges and
universities graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) teach many of the introductory
courses in a wide variety of academic disciplines. Administrators of academic
departments which hire the GTAs often assume that the GTAs know both "what" to
teach and "how" best to teach it. Most GTAs, however, enter graduate school with
no teaching experience, and in many universities, they receive only the most
cursory teacher training. Investigating how these instructors communicate with
students and what students need and expect from the classroom communication
environment may help in designing effective training programs and make GTAs and
students more aware of the importance of classroom communication behaviors.
STUDENT PERCEPTIONS OF GTAS
Noting that little is known
about how GTAs are perceived and evaluated by students, Buerkel-Rothfuss and
Fink (1993) sought to identify factors which influence the degree to which GTAs
can meet their students' expectations and to identify those areas where GTA
trainer and course directors might focus their energies to best enhance
training. In general, undergraduate students indicated no strong preference for
regular faculty versus GTAs; they viewed GTAs as being as effective and as
deserving of respect as regular faculty. Students perceived GTAs as being
somewhat more friendly, more creative, and more accessible.
According to Butland and Beebe (1992), "teacher immediacy" in the classroom (verbal and nonverbal communication such as
smiles, head nods, use of inclusive language, and eye contact) is perhaps the
most salient research variable to emerge in instructional communication research
in the past two decades. Their research applied implicit communication theory as
a paradigm to explain the increased learning that results from an instructor's
use of immediate behaviors such as offering praise or feedback on students'
work, showing a willingness and interest in talking with students, addressing
students by their first names, and employing inclusive pronouns such as "our"
class and what "we" must do. Nonverbal immediate behaviors such as displaying
vocal expressiveness, smiling, relaxing body posture, and varied gestures and
movements also enhanced student learning by increasing students' liking for the
instructor primarily and subject matter secondarily.
The interaction of students' motivation to study and instructors' verbal and
nonverbal immediacy was investigated by Frymier (1993). Her research found that
students beginning the semester with either low or moderate motivation to study
had increased motivation to study after being exposed to a highly immediate
instructor, while students with a high level of motivation were unaffected by
their instructors' immediacy behaviors.
ATTITUDES OF STUDENTS AND GTAS ABOUT COMMUNICATION
In the process of developing a scale for assessing the perceived
communication effectiveness of graduate teaching assistants, Daniel (1983a)
asked students and GTAs to identify effective communication behaviors. The
behaviors were compiled into a scale that was administered to undergraduate
students. The findings suggested that students perceived as effective those
instructors who possessed (1) organizational stability (answers questions
clearly and concisely, explains guidelines, and points out what is important in
each lesson); (2) instructional adaptability (shows interest in student
opinions); and (3) interpersonal flexibility (does not put students down or
McDowell (1993) investigated the relationships between teaching style and
teaching attitude variables, as well as among gender groups, teaching experience
groups, and age groups. GTAs from all 32 departments in a midwestern university
participated in the research. Results indicated that 50% of the GTAs felt that
the personality of the instructor and interpersonal relationships with students
played significant roles in their teaching. In addition, between 60% and 80% of
the GTAs rated friendliness, "communicator image," "impression leaving,"
attentiveness, and "animated" more positively than other style variables.
The question of whether graduate teaching assistants in speech communication
were aware of the affective components of their classroom behavior and of the
student responses to them, and whether the instructors' awareness of the
affective dimensions of instruction related to the student evaluative responses
were examined in O'Hair and Babich (1981). During the last week of a semester,
students were administered the Index of Teachers' Affective Communication
(ITAC). GTAs examined the ITAC and were asked to predict what the mean student
response would be for each of the items on the measure. While most instructors
scored well on the ITAC according to their students, many of the GTAs were
unable to predict their scores.
Students' attitudes about their GTAs
differ depending on whether the GTA is male or female, and whether the student
is male or female. An interpretation of gender differences in McDowell (1993)
indicates that males use the lecture method, a dominant and precise style, more
than females, while females feel more committed to teaching and are more
informal, friendly, and open toward students.
Daniel (1983b) collected data from over 1,000 students and 60 GTAs. Among the
conclusions were that female GTAs were rated more heavily on their instructional
adaptability and interpersonal inflexibility than were males, and that female
students tended to rate instructors more on those same dimensions. Male
instructors were rated more on their organizational stability.
The gender specificity of GTAs' language use was examined by Murray (1993).
Eight GTAs teaching a basic speech communication course and seven GTAs teaching
a basic history course participated. The number of gender-specific examples used
by the GTAs were recorded and compared to the gender make-up of each class. The
GTAs adapted their examples to the classroom gender majority.
Many guides exist for instructors who want
to improve their classroom communication skills. The Speech Communication
Association has published a collection of essays concerning GTA supervision and
training for their discipline ("Preparing Teaching Assistants for Instructional
Roles: Supervising TAs in Communication" edited by Jody D. Nyquist and Donald H.
Wulff (1992)). Diamond (1983) focuses on improving lecture skills, including
vocal aspects of lecture delivery. Goodwin et al (1983) presents a guide to help
instructors improve or review their questioning skills.
For a representative sample of material on training GTAs, see the annotated
bibliography by Feezel and Venkatagiri (1990).
Buerkel-Rothfuss, Nancy L. and Donn S. Fink
(1993) "Student Perceptions of Teaching Assistants (TAs)," "Basic Communication
Course Annual,"Volume V," 1993. Lawrence W. Hugenberg, Ed. [ED 378 630]
Butland, Mark J. and Steven A. Beebe (1992). "A Study of the Application of
Implicit Communication Theory to Teacher Immediacy and Student Learning." Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association
(Miami). [ED 346 532]
Daniel, Arlie (1983a). "Development of a Perceived Communication
Effectiveness Scale." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International
Communication Association. [ED 233 405]
......(1983b). "A Demographic Analysis of Students and Their GTA
Instructors." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Central States Speech
Association (Lincoln, NE). [ED 228 670]
Diamond, Nancy A., et al (1983). "Improving Your Lecturing." Revised. Urbana,
IL: University of Illinois, Office of Instructional Management and Services. [ED
Feezel, Jerry D. and Rama Venkatagiri (1990). "Preparing Graduate Teaching
Assistants: An Annotated Bibliography." Annandale, VA: Speech Communication
Association. [ED 355 584]
Frymier, Ann Bainbridge (1993). "The Impact of Teacher Immediacy on Students'
Motivation Over the Course of a Semester." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting
of the Speech Communication Association (Miami Beach). [ED 367 020]
Goodwin, Stephanie S. et al (1983). "Effective Classroom Questioning." Office
of Instructional and Management Services, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois.
[ED 285 497]
McDowell, Earl E. (1993). "An Exploratory Study of GTA's Attitudes Toward
Aspects of Teaching and Teaching Style." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting
of the Speech Communication Association (Miami Beach). [ED 370 147]
Murray, Martin G., and Trudie K. Peterson. (1993). "Diversity in the
Classroom: Gender Related Examples." Paper presented at the Joint Meeting of the
Southern States Communication Association/Central States Communication
Association (Lexington). [ED 361 785]
O'Hair, H. Dan, and Roger M. Babich (1981). "The Evaluation and Prediction of
Affective Response to Graduate Teaching Assistants' Classroom Communication."
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association
(Anaheim). [ED 209 699]