The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills required for students to participate in their classes. Online students have a unique opportunity available to them for communicating with their instructors, if they choose to use it, because they have time to think about what they are going to communicate before they post something in the classroom or send an email. For students in a traditional classroom environment they may either be willing to speak up in class if they feel comfortable doing so or they may have a fear of speaking and fail to get involved unless they are specifically called upon. What matters most for classroom communication is how students interact with their instructors, and there are common challenges that can interrupt its effectiveness.
The most common issues involve failing to speak clearly and concisely, being involved in a conversation without listening to the other person, and failing to consider the tone of the message being communicated. One problem that can have the most negative impact is reactive communication. This occurs when there is communication based upon an emotional response either related to a classroom incident, feedback received, or anything else that has been perceived in a negative manner. What this does is create barriers to meaningful interactions and portrays an uncooperative attitude. If the tone of the message is perceived as being aggressive this can also demonstrate disrespect for the instructor. Students must learn how to communicate effectively so they can build productive working relationships, receive the assistance when they need it, and be engaged in productive conversations
Consider Your Attitude
As a student you must learn to think before you act or react. This is especially important when you need to interact with your instructor, either when you are seeking assistance during class or clarification for feedback received. Whether you are asking a question or responding to something that has occurred in the classroom you must first decide if you are going to ask for help or demand help. You express your attitude through the tone of your message, which includes making the right word choices and avoiding extreme punctuation. For example, typing in ALL CAPS when you are sending an email or posting a message online can be seen as SHOUTING. The use of multiple exclamation marks can also be seen as shouting or aggressive behavior. In a traditional classroom your body language and vocal tone can portray the same negative disposition.
If you are in a classroom and experience negative emotions, learn to wait and identify what you are feeling before you respond. If you are feeling frustrated as an online student, write out what you are feeling on a separate piece of paper and then wait to edit it until you have been able to regain your composure. For either type of classroom environment, once you make a shift from an emotional state back to a logical and rational perspective, you can then begin to determine how you will respond and communicate in a productive manner. Your attitude will determine how others respond to you, including your instructor.
Communicating With Your Instructor
As you begin to think about communicating to your instructor, consider what you expect your instructor to do when they receive your verbal or written message. For example, a brief message that states "I can't do this" or "I don't know how" doesn't really provide your instructor with an indication of how they may be able to assist you. You must learn to clarify what it is you need or are asking so that you can receive a helpful reply. It is also important to know what the school policies and procedures consist of, along with the expectations of your instructors. This is an area of confusion for students at times because their needs or requests may not align with what is allowed by the school or their instructors.
As an example, if a student indicates they are ill that day, what do they expect the instructor to do? Since students are provided with a syllabus and list of course requirements ahead of time it is expected that they will complete their work, unless there is an acceptable extenuating circumstance. What this means is that any request made needs to be realistic in nature. For example, waiting until the last minute or when an assignment is due and requesting an extension is not a realistic expectation. If you communicate frequently with your instructors you will have established a rapport with them, which will help when you need assistance or you want to alert them about an extenuating circumstance.
Develop Effective Communication
When you are ready to communicate in an appropriate manner and contact your instructor, begin with a warm and welcoming tone to your message. Be sure that you respect your instructor's time, willingness to assist you, and their preferred means of contact. Begin your communication with a request for assistance so that you establish you are asking for help rather than demanding specific expectations or outcomes. Next, clearly and concisely indicate what assignment, task, feedback, or other particular item is related to your request. Then provide an overview of the steps you have taken or what you have done to address the primary concern for this communication. What you are doing is establishing a clear path for your instructor to review and respond to, which will likely lead to a productive outcome.
Develop a Receptive Mindset
As you communicate with your instructors always remember that they are owed a level of respect whether or not you believe they have earned it or are entitled to it. Instructors have your best interest at heart and can better assist you when you are in a receptive frame of mind and have provided a well-developed and well thought out message, whether it is communicated verbally or through electronic means such as email. Effective communication means that you have clearly stated what you need assistance with or what you would like to discuss, and you have established a productive working relationship with your instructor through any form of contact. This requires proactive and ongoing interactions rather than aggressive, emotional, or reactive responses. Use the ability to interact with your instructor as a means of supporting your ongoing success and development.
Originally posted on Feb 21, 2015
About the Author:
Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has developed expertise with adult learning through advanced education in the field of adult education, along with his work as an instructional designer, college educator, professional writer, corporate trainer, and manager of training and development.
Dr. J has authored the following publications:
-Be Prepared to Teach Online: Strategies from an Online College Professor
-Skills and Strategies Online Students Need: Written by an Online College Professor
-Discover Your Personal Best through a Positive Mindset Tune Up
-Appreciative Andragogy: Taking the Distance Out of Distance Learning
To learn more about these resources please visit: http://affordablequalitywriting.com/resources-and-store/books