Online learning threatens student-teacher interactions and performance

Every student, at some point in their college career, has been advised to get to know their professor, sit in the front row and laugh at their jokes. By doing this, you can improve grades, network and make yourself stand out, which is crucial to your college success; but how is this possible in online learning environments?

When taking CIS 2010 with Prof. Kurt Schmitz last year, he made certain to put an emphasis on student-teacher interactions as early as the first day of class. 

“Make sure to stay behind and introduce yourself if you have any questions,” he said. “In a class this big you don’t want to be just another name that comes up in my email inbox asking for a favor.”

Prof. Schmitz had a point, as our class consisted of more than 200 students. After introducing myself and developing an acquaintanceship with him, I felt more motivated to do well on my work and got a much higher grade than I was anticipating.

My personal observations have been echoed by the academic community for many years. The Journal of College Student Development published that student-faculty interactions can be “crucial in developing students’ academic self-concept and enhancing their motivation and achievement.”

It’s noted that students who interact frequently with their professors tend to rate their academic program as being more interesting, exciting, enjoyable, relevant and necessary for their career. This suggests that student-faculty interactions have an impact on both the emotional and intellectual development of students.

Unfortunately, as it has with most things, COVID-19 has complicated the situation this semester. 

While some classes have moved to a blended format, many have gone fully online, preventing students from interacting with their professors outside of email. According to The Review of Higher Education Journal, The most frequent type of contact that students have with faculty members typically include situations in which they are asking for information about a course or visiting after class.

Since our professors have had little preparation in how best to conduct an online course, many of them have chosen to do an “asynchronous” format, where the student is provided with materials and made responsible for teaching themselves the course content.

This asynchronous class model completely removes any opportunity for interaction between students and their teachers or even other students in the course, dissolving their perceived learning community.

According to the journal Education, Communication & Information, “In traditional, face-to-face classrooms, researchers found that teachers’ immediacy behaviors could lessen the psychological distance between themselves and their students, leading, directly or indirectly, depending on the study, to greater learning.” 

While the results are not conclusive, researchers believe that the inverse may also be true, that fully asynchronous teaching may lessen student learning.

Furthermore, for the success of asynchronous learning “[researchers] suggest that three factors are consistently associated with the success of online courses… clear and consistent course structure, an instructor who interacts frequently and constructively with students, and a valued and dynamic discussion.”

Georgia State students will have to find new ways of forming meaningful connections with our professors this year, and unfortunately, our grades will be on the line because of it.