Isolation, Diversity, and Communication: Bridging the Gap Between Instructor and Student

Concurrent Session 6

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Brief Abstract

Most instructors are domain experts; however, ‘how to teach’ is rarely addressed in preparation. The research suggests that students’ feeling of isolation is a primary factor in retention, academic success, and on-line learning efficacy development. Increasing an instructor's social presence is an important component to reduce these feelings of isolation.


Dr. Michelle Rosser-Majors, Professor, serves Ashford University, in the College of Health, Human Services, and Sciences College and researches Leadership Development, Online Learning, Metacognition, and Motivation. She serves as the Program Chair for the Bachelors of Psychology Program. Dr. Rosser-Majors is a member of the American Educational Research Association, the Asian Research Consortium, the National Consortium for Instruction and Cognition, the International Journal of the Academy of Organizational Behavior Management (IAOBM) and the International Journal of Research in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management (IOBHM). Dr. Rosser-Majors is also the author of the text Becoming and Integrated Educational Leader and publishes, as well as reviews, for both national and international peer-reviewed journals.

Extended Abstract

Most instructors are well trained in their domains; however how to teach a content area is not as purposefully addressed when preparing instructors for higher education opportunities. In addition, teaching in Online Learning Environments (OLEs) offers additional challenges that may not be as transparent to all instructors. The research is stable across domains that the isolation that many students have in OLEs is a primary factor in retention, academic success, and on-line learning efficacy development. Increasing an instructor's social presence has been identified as an important component to reduce this isolation; whereas, by applying motivational strategies that encourage relationship building in the OLE, research suggests improved engagement, "dialogical" participation (Rosser & Nelson, 2012), and retention (Baran, Correia, & Thompson, 2013; Scagnoli, 2001). Thus the impact of taking the time to not just teach but communicate in way that is perceived by students as "positive" and "caring" is critical.


Participants will:

1. discuss strategies for creating a more welcoming and personal "you" to increase relationship building within a course.

2. explore how to apply discussion feedback in a way the encourages increased student dialogue and engagement in forums that builds throughout the advancing weeks

3. distinguish ways to communicate critical feedback in regards to plagiarism that lessens the impact to the relationship of the instructor-student.

4. take back to their home institutions, specific examples of how to increase social presence in the OLE.


Strategies, to be discussed, to support these learning objectives include:

1. A more approachable "YOU"     

Introductions are important to the OLE relationship building process. Students who can identify that their instructor is a "real person" have an easier time forming a perceived "caring" relationship with the instructor and may present more positive levels of engagement (Hamre & Pianta, 2005; McCombs, 2004; McCombs & Miller, 2006; Weinberger & McCombs, 2003).

2. Increased Dialogue

Research has suggested strategies to increase student engagement in discussion forums. Through analysis of differing types of feedback offered, new research has suggested that aligning public instructor feedback with a perceived concern for the students’ performance outcomes may increase the depth and "dialogical" engagement of student discussions (Rosser, 2015; Rosser & Nelson, 2012).

3. Communication, Perceived Caring, and Building Relationships

In many ways, this area of perception is critical in the online learning environment. Several issues drive the increased awareness of how instructors present themselves in this environment to students: 1) Plagiarism is an issue in higher education institutions, yet it is highly important to each institution to maintain the integrity of their students, student work, and their reputations. learning to utilize possible plagiarism as teachable moments (Warn, 2014) and how to more effectively communicate deliberate "looking" incidents that do not break down the caring-trust relationship. 2) Diversity between instructors and students is vast and thus, a better awareness of how students can misinterpret instructor feedback is critical. 3) Communicating without body language is easily misinterpreted at many levels. Learning how to better present one's self in this context is important to this area of instructor awareness.

4. Applying Strategies

Lastly, attendees will receive a take-home guide that include examples of how to increase social presence in their classrooms that support all of the above objectives.

1. Video Introduction (Could include audio or just words, music, or other creative venue)

2. Audio Introduction (simply a recording)

3. Weekly Audio or video announcements (rather than just typed words.)

4. Live chats in the classroom.

5. Sending welcoming messages and preliminary information about the course before it begins.

6. Instructor created course navigation videos to initiate students to social presence and help establish expectations.

7. Video Instructor Guidance

8. Using social media sites to give students a place to "connect" outside of the institution (LinkedIn, Research Gate, etc. (Many do not believe in this practice from what I understand.)

9. Live office hours


Caveat: This session will engage new faculty as well as seasoned as it introduces strategies to apply to the classroom that encourage students to increase dialogue and engagement, through gaining a sense of belonging in the environment with peers and instructors. Content will be appropriate and useful across content areas.