Training teachers to use verbal immediacy

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University of Manchester Library]On: 21 November 2014, At: 03:07Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Training teachers to use verbal immediacyKarla Kay Jensen aa Assistant Professor in Communication Studies , Texas Tech University , Lubbock, TX, 79409Published online: 06 Jun 2009.

    To cite this article: Karla Kay Jensen (1999) Training teachers to use verbal immediacy, Communication Research Reports,16:3, 223-232, DOI: 10.1080/08824099909388721

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  • Training Teachers to Use Verbal Immediacy

    Karla Kay JensenTexas Tech University

    Previous research clearly demonstrates the positive impacts of us-ing verbal immediacy in the college classroom. This paper exploresthe issue of training university instructors to increase their verbal im-mediacy use while teaching. First, a brief literature review recapsrecent verbal immediacy studies and the reasons training could bevaluable. Next, the training method is outlined and results reveal howuniversity teachers were successfully trained to use significantly moreverbal immediacy in their classrooms, compared to a control group ofteachers who were not trained. A discussion concludes with the impli-cations for improving college teaching.

    The positive effects of teacher verbal immediacy have been well researched and docu-mented in the last decade. Verbal immediacy in the classroom can be defined as spokenbehaviors which increase psychological closeness between teachers and their students. Suchbehaviors include praising students, calling students by name, using humor in class, initiat-ing and/or demonstrating willingness to become engaged in conversations with studentsbefore, after or outside of class, self-disclosing, asking questions that solicit viewpoints oropinions, providing feedback on students' work, following up on student-initiated topics,and inviting students to telephone or meet outside of class if they have questions or want todiscuss a matter (Gorham, 1988).

    Karla Kay Jensen (Ph.D., University of Kansas, 1994) is an Assistant Professor in CommunicationStudies at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX 79409.

    COMMUNICATION RESEARCH REPORTS, Volume 16, Number 3, pages 223-232

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  • Page 224 - Communication Research Reports/Summer 1999

    Initial work on immediacy (Mehrabian, 1967; 1971) asserted that the primary function ofimmediacy behaviors is that they reflect a positive attitude of the sender to the receiver. "...[L]iking encourages greater immediacy and immediacy produces more liking" (1971, p. 77).Other authors concurred, stating that verbal cues express immediacy or nonimmediacy,resulting in perceptions of approach or avoidance (Anthony, 1978; Conville, 1975). Summa-rizing the verbal immediacy research to that date, Bradac, Bowers, and Courtright (1979)concluded that positive affect on the part of the source increases verbal immediacy whichwas related to evaluations of a source's character and competence.

    Considering that use of immediacy is related to a person being seen as a likable indi-vidual, it is not surprising that communication scholars have found relationships betweenteacher verbal immediacy and student self-reports of motivation (Christophel & Gorham,1995 ), as well as students' perceptions of their affective, behavioral and cognitive learning(Christophel, 1990; Gorham, 1988; Gorham & Christophel, 1990; Sanders & Wiseman, 1990).In a recent retest of these variables, Christensen and Menzel (1998) found a positive linearrelationship between teacher verbal immediacy and state (external) motivation, perceivedcognitive, affective and behavioral learning. In addition, findings reveal verbal immediacyhas a relationship to higher teacher ratings (Moore, Masterson, Christophel, & Shea, 1996),greater teacher clarity (Powell & Harville, 1990), and lower student communication appre-hension (Ellis, 1995).

    Research has provided instructors with sufficiently motivating evidence that verbalimmediacy greatly enhances students' learning. Therefore, the purpose of this investigationwas to determine whether instructors can be taught to increase their immediacy and whetherstudents perceive an increase of immediacy behaviors after conclusion of immediacy train-ing. Gorham and Zakahi (1990) have indicated that teachers are able to accurately assesshow they appear to their students and that experience was not related to this monitoringability. It makes sense that instructors would be capable of changing their classroom behav-ior when presented with information that they deem valuable to their teaching or theirstudents' learning. Although previous research does not indicate whether teachers aremotivated by such information, we at least know that they are able of changing. Thus, thecurrent study presumed that, if teachers can monitor their own behaviors, verbal immediacytraining would be possible and valuable.

    In the most current research examining both nonverbal and verbal immediacy, verbalimmediacy accounted for twice as much variance in perceived student learning and nearlythree times as much variance in state motivation than did nonverbal immediacy (Christensen& Menzel, 1998). When reviewing research which explores both nonverbal and verbalimmediacy, however, results generally show that nonverbal immediacy has a greater impacton learning and motivation than does verbal immediacy. Despite these contradictory find-ings, it is certain that both types of immediacy have a positive impact on the classroomlearning environment.

    While not denying the value of nonverbally immediate behaviors, a focus on verbalteacher behaviors may be more pragmatic from a faculty training perspective because lan-guage may be more easily controlled. Specifically, in a large lecture hall, it may be impos-sible to achieve a desired level of nonverbal immediacy with all students for a lack of physi-cal proximity. Consequently, when nonverbally immediate behaviors such as smiling, ges-turing or using eye contact may lose their impact, or when room arrangement restricts teacher

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  • Verbal Immediacy Training - Page 225

    movement, a teacher's language skill can be the one factor remaining consistently immedi-ate, despite the type of room or number of students.

    We may very well be headed toward larger classes where students and faculty alikecomplain that there is little opportunity to interact (Chism, 1989; Cravener, 1997; Gedeon,1997; Geske, 1992; Hensley & Oakely, 1998). When considering the trend in larger univer-sity classes, it is useful to recall that the effects of immediacy on learning have been shown toincrease as class size increases (Gorham, 1988). This finding is pedagogically paramountwhen we recall that many students find it difficult to pay attention (Penner, 1984) and to feelinvolved (Pearson, 1990) in a lecture situation. This finding also makes sense because, in alarge lecture environment, verbal immediacy may be the main channel through which car-ing and concern are conveyed; consequently, the use of verbal immediacy could motivatestudents to pay greater attention and learn more.

    Considering that past research shows the positive effects of verbal immediacy on stu-dent learning and motivation, and previous studies demonstrate that instructors are capableof monitoring their own behaviors, it seemed reasonable that faculty could be trained to usemore immediacy in their classrooms to create a more successful learning environment. Be-cause the actual amount of verbal immediacy use may not necessarily be perceived by stu-dents, it was necessary to examine verbal immediacy from the perspectives of both teacherand student. Also, it was necessary to examine two groups of faculty to determine if verbalimmediacy training influenced teacher and student behaviors, and not other confoundingvariables such as time. Thus, one group of faculty was trained, and the second group wasnot trained.

    The following research questions were explored to further understand the influence ofverbal immediacy in the classroom:

    RQ1: Does training affect students perceptions of verbal immediacy?RQ2a: Will teachers' verbal immediacy use increase after verbal immediacy training?RQ2b: Will teachers' verbal immediacy use increase without training?The intended impact of more verbal immediacy use in the classroom is ultimately greater

    student learning. We know from previously cited work that verbal immediacy positivelyinfluences students' motivation and learning. It was thought that one way we might mea-sure the impact of increased immediacy was through examining students' participation intheir classes. Consequently, the following questions were asked:

    RQ3a: Will students' solicited or unsolicited class participation increase after theirinstructors' verbal immediacy training?

    RQ3b: Will students' solicited or unsolicited class participation increase during thecourse of the semester without teacher training?

    METHOD .Participants and Procedures

    Full-time faculty members from all departments at a large, southwest university werecontacted to participate in a study regarding teaching effectiveness. Forty-two full- timefaculty from 16 disciplines participated. Those disciplines represented in the study follow:Animal Science, Anthropology, Atmospheric Science, Biology, Communication Disorders,Communication Studies, Economics, English, Health/Physical Education & Recreation,History, Hotel/Restaurant Management, Math, Physics, Political Science, Theater Arts, andWomen's Studies. Years of faculty teaching experience at the college level ranged from three

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  • Page 226 - Communication Research Reports/Summer 1999

    to 25 years, with an average of 14 years. Twenty-two of the faculty participants were male,while twenty participants were female.

    The 2,478 undergraduate students of the faculty volunteers were also subjects. Classsizes ranged from 10 to 99 students, with an average of 45 students per class. The meanstudent age was 21.4. Fifty-four percent of the student subjects were female; 17% of thestudents were first year, 25% were sophomores, 30% were juniors and 28% were seniors.

    In exchange for their participation, faculty participants were invited to meet with theresearcher at the end of the semester after the data was gathered, to examine and discuss thedata collected in their individual class. Students, whose participation was voluntary, werenot offered any incentives.

    The first phase of data collection (Tl) began during the fourth and fifth weeks of thesemester. All faculty volunteers were visited in their classrooms during a session of lectureand/or discussion. Each class was both audio- and video-taped as unobtrusively as pos-sible. Taping began five minutes before the scheduled beginning of the class; if the instructorwas not there at that time, taping began upon the instructor's arrival. After each lecture, thefaculty member departed and all students in the class were asked to indicate the frequency ofteachers' use of each immediacy behavior included on Gorham's (1988) verbal immediacyscale (SeeTable 1).

    TABLE 1Gorham's (1988) Verbal Immediacy Scale

    1. Uses personal examples or talks about experiences she/he has had outside of class.2 Asks questions or encourages students to talk.3. Gets into discussions based on something a student brings up even when this doesn't seem

    to be part of his/her lecture plan.4. Uses humor in class.5. Addresses students by name.6. Addresses me by name.7. Gets into conversations with individual students before or after class.8. Has initiated conversations with me before, after, or outside of class.9. Refers to "my "class or what "I" am doing.

    10. Refers to "our" class or what "we" are doing.11. Provides feedback on individual work through comments on papers, discussions, etc.12. Calls on students to answer questions, even if they have not indicated that they want to talk.13. Asks how students feel about an assignment, due date or discussion topic.14. Invites students to telephone or meeting with him/her outside of class if they have questions

    or want to discuss something.15. Asks questions that have specific, correct answers.16. Asks questions that solicit viewpoints or opinions.17. Praises students' work, actions, or comments.18. Criticizes or points out faults in students' work, actions or comments.19. Will have discussions about things unrelated to class with individual students or with the

    class as a whole.20. Is addresses by his/her first name by the students.

    Note: Numbers 9,12,15 and 18 are considered non-immediate behaviors

    In previous studies, reliability of this measure have been reported up to .92 (Gorham &Zakahi, 1990). Cronbach alpha reliability for the verbal immediacy scale in the currentstudy was .85. In addition to the respectable reliability in this and previous research, astrength of Gorham's (1988) verbal immediacy instrument lies in i...

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