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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What Are We Communicating to Students When We Write? | Teaching Professor Blog

"Do we communicate more with students in writing than we used to?" according to Maryellen Weimer, PhD.
Photo: iStockphoto
 I think so. In addition to the course syllabus, the usual handouts, and written feedback on papers, projects, and performances, we now share all kinds of electronic messages with students. We exchange emails, post announcements on course management systems, and participate in online discussions. Those who use PowerPoint tend to make rather text-heavy slides. And if you happen to teach online, then virtually all your communication with students occurs via some written format.

First and foremost, all of these written materials communicate messages about the course and its conduct. But beyond this explicit information are other, more subtle messages. They are conveyed not as much by what we say as by how we say it. Without the benefit of tone, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues, written communication creates new challenges for establishing a positive learning environment.

Several parameters guide our written communication with students. We need to be polite, and most of us are. We need to be professional, and most of us don’t have a problem with that either...

The syllabi study did not consider how impressions about the course and instructor are mediated when the teacher presents and discusses the syllabus in person. But often the syllabus is now a stand-alone introduction to the course and instructor. That’s almost always the case in online courses, but even in face-to-face courses the syllabus is often posted on the course website before the class convenes. So, students start to form their impressions before the first class.

I wonder if we are as aware of the “tonal” messages in our written communications as we should be. Often, we have so many assignments to grade that we get tired and the comments can become cryptic. Students, personally vested in their work, respond viscerally to teacher comments, especially those that point out flaws. Yes, they need to grow up and learn from negative feedback, but growing up is a process. How can we make it a constructive experience?

Source: Teaching Professor Blog