Distance-education students utilize computer-mediated communication


April 22, 2010

The research team of Cynthia B. McKenney, Ellen B. Peffley, and Igino Teolis from the Department of Plant and Soil Science at Texas Tech set out to analyze communication methods between students and faculty in three distance learning modalities: web-facilitated, online, and interactive video conferencing (IVC) courses. They also studied the amount of time invested by faculty in course delivery, grading, student communications, and administrative activities across the three modalities.

Regarding student to faculty communications, the research showed that the number of e-mails and phone calls from students in the online sections were significantly greater than those in the web-facilitated sections. "The number of phone or e-mail contacts increase when students have a reduced amount of direct faculty/student contact. It would appear that when students have less access to faculty synchronously in class, they resort to alternative methods of communication", explained McKenney. This increase in "computer-mediated communication" (CMC) by the online students confirmed previous studies that showed an increased use of e-mail by students enrolled in online courses. Interestingly, the study found that students in the interactive video conferencing courses were unwilling to contact a faculty member by phone; none of the students in either of the two IVC sections phoned a faculty member during the semester. The researchers observed that this phenomenon "substantiated the increased use of e-mail by students enrolled in distance courses and emphasized the need for timely faculty response to computer-mediated communication."

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