STUDENTS PERCEPTIONS OF TEACHER CREDIBILITY AND LEARNING EXPECTATIONS IN CLASSROOM COURSES WITH WEBSITES

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1 Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 28: , 2004 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Inc. ISSN: print/ online DOI: = STUDENTS PERCEPTIONS OF TEACHER CREDIBILITY AND LEARNING EXPECTATIONS IN CLASSROOM COURSES WITH WEBSITES Paul L. Witt University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas, USA A growing number of community college faculty incorporate Internet technology into their course delivery, including the use of a supplemental Web site for classroom courses. This study employed hypothetical scenarios and experimental research design to examine students initial perceptions of teacher credibility and their expectations for learning in the presence of and absence of a course Web site. Three hypotheses predicted that the availability of a supplemental course Web site would positively influence certain student attitudes about the instructors and expected learning in the courses, but none of the hypotheses was supported. The neutral responses of these students stand in contrast to the very positive attitudes of instructors who create such sites and deem them to be essential to successful course delivery. The article concludes with a discussion of the disparate viewpoints of students and teachers. A recent issue of the Community College Journal of Research and Practice reported findings from a survey of college instructors who used supplemental course Web sites in their classroom courses (Witt, 2003). The study was guided by the question, Are course Web sites worth the trouble? Responses detailed consistently positive feedback from most of the instructors, who considered their sites to be essential to successful course delivery. However, close examination revealed that only a few of the sites included in the study achieved specific educational goals that could not have been achieved through traditional nonelectronic methodologies. Although instructors were very positive about the sites they had created, no data were collected from students to determine whether the presence of a course Web site had any specific effects on their perceptions of the teacher or course. The present Address correspondence to Paul L. Witt, Department of Communication, University of Texas at Arlington, Box 19107, Arlington, TX

2 424 P. L. Witt study investigated possible effects of course Web sites from the viewpoint of students. Experimental research design was used to examine students initial perceptions of teacher credibility and their expected learning in the presence of and absence of a course Web site. Numerous researchers in the fields of Communication and Education have examined the effects of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in a variety of instructional delivery systems. For example, McComb (1994) reported a greater number of ideas generated in on-line decision-making groups than in face-to-face groups, although student satisfaction remained higher in the face-to-face context. Althaus (1997) reported higher grades and higher student self-reports of learning when face-to-face instruction was supplemented with computer-mediated discussion groups. Jackson and Madison (1999) reviewed three case studies in which CMC enabled creative instructional design that extended beyond the limits of traditional instruction. Dozens of other investigations and case studies have reported on students satisfaction and learning outcomes in CMC contexts. In contrast to the affirmative tone of many of these studies, Lane and Shelton (2001) posited that too many educators are latching onto the most recent wave of technological advance without fully considering fundamental practical and evaluative pedagogical issues (p. 241). Sounding a further note of caution, these scholars warned against those who blindly endorse CMC without focusing attention on the most basic pedagogical concerns (p. 242). They concluded with a call for thoughtful and evaluative research into the incorporation of instructional technologies, a message echoed by those who systematically pose the question, Just because we can, should we? (Witt & Woodruff, 2001). In response to the call for critical evaluation of instructional technology, a program of research has been initiated to examine the use of supplemental Web sites in classroom courses, and initial findings indicate the following attitudes of the instructors who employ such sites (Witt, 2003; Witt & Woodruff, 2001): (1) Instructors create the sites to provide access to course materials, promote communication among teacher and classmates, develop online learning skills, and=or aid the teacher in delivering classroom instruction; (2) Most instructors create their site themselves, investing an average of 14 hours to develop it and 11 hours to update=maintain it each semester; (3) Over 90% of the instructors included in the study reported that the Web sites they had created were essential or convenient to the successful delivery of the course. In the initial study, data were not collected from students to

3 Students Learning Expectations 425 investigate the effects the sites might have had on their learning expectations or perceptions of the teacher or course; therefore, this present study was undertaken to examine these potential effects from the students viewpoint. The incorporation of Internet technologies in course design may contribute to a positive learning environment at the beginning of the semester. For example, if students view the use of course Web sites as contemporary methodology and appealing instructional style, they may have higher initial perceptions of the teacher s credibility and greater expectations for learning in the course. As noted earlier, there is some evidence of enhanced learning when face-to-face instruction is supplemented with online communication (Althaus, 1997). Furthermore, if students perceive a course Web site to be an unexpected course enhancement, the expectancy violation might carry a positive valence (Burgoon, 1983) and serve to enhance students attitudes about the teacher or course. To examine students initial perceptions of teacher credibility, their expectations for learning, and their affect for teacher and course content both in the presence and absence of course Web sites, the following hypotheses were tested: H 1 : At the beginning of the semester, perceptions of teacher credibility are higher among students in classroom courses that include a course Web site than in courses where no such site exists. H 2 : At the beginning of the semester, expectations for learning are higher among students in classroom courses that include a course Web site than in courses where no such site exists. H 3 : At the beginning of the semester, expected affect for teacher and course content are higher among students in classroom courses that include a course Web site than in courses where no such site exists. Because students might respond differently to the teacher s use of a course Web site depending on the gender of the teacher, the following research question (RQ) also was examined: RQ: How do differences in teacher gender influence the effects of course Web sites on students perceptions of teacher credibility, expectations for learning, and expected affect for teacher and course content?

4 426 P. L. Witt METHOD Sample and Procedures Two independent variables, presence of a course Web site and teacher gender, were manipulated in a 2 2 design during this experimental study. Manipulations of both variables were controlled through the use of written scenarios depicting a typical first class session at the beginning of the semester. Four versions of the scenario were developed to represent the four experimental conditions: Condition 1: Male teacher with a Web site Condition 2: Male teacher with no Web site Condition 3: Female teacher with a Web site Condition 4: Female teacher with no Web site All four versions of the scenario contained identical wording except for the variable manipulations. In conditions 1 and 2, the teacher s name was Dr. Paul Carter; in 3 and 4 it was Dr. Paula Carter. In conditions 1 and 3, the teacher introduced the course Web site containing syllabus, schedule, assignments, and so forth. In conditions 2 and 4, the teacher went over the same information from a printed syllabus and responded No when a student asked, Is there a Web site associated with the course? In all other respects, the scenarios were identical. Manipulation checks were performed by three Communication faculty members, who readily achieved 100% agreement that the experimental conditions had been accurately depicted. To collect data for the study, questionnaires were distributed to 257 students in six sections of a history course required of all undergraduate students on an urban campus in the South. Questionnaires were randomly distributed among participants, each questionnaire containing a hypothetical scenario depicting one of the four experimental conditions. Students were asked to complete a series of questions about the instructor and course described in the scenario. Data were collected using a modified Teacher Credibility scale (McCroskey & Young, 1981), a single-item self-report of expected learning (Richmond, Gorham,& McCroskey, 1987), and an eight-item Affective Learning scale (Andersen, 1979; Scott& Wheeless, 1975). From the 257 students invited to participate, 226 students completed questionnaires (88% response rate). Participants included 107 first-year students, 68 sophomores, 34 juniors, 16 seniors, and 1 graduate student, representing a diverse student population pursuing 43 different majors. The sample included 117 males and 109

5 Students Learning Expectations 427 females; ages ranged from 16 to 50. Using the data obtained from this sample, statistical analyses were performed to test the hypotheses and research question. MEASUREMENT Perceived Teacher Credibility In order to measure participants perceptions of the credibility of the instructor described in the scenarios, students completed a modified Teacher Credibility scale (McCroskey & Young, 1981). This 12-item semantic differential scale is typically used to measure two factors, the perceived competence and character of the teacher. Only the 6-item competence factor was used in this study (intelligent-unintelligent, competent-incompetent, expert-inexpert, etc.), due to the brief firstday scenarios used in the study. Reliability of the Teacher Credibility scale has ranged from.84 to.93 (Beatty & Behnke, 1980; Beatty & Zahn, 1990; McCroskey, 1966; McCroskey & Young, 1981). Alpha reliabilities obtained in this study were.89 (Cronbach, 1951). Learning Expectations In order to measure students expectations for learning in the course, participants were asked, On a scale of 0 9, how much do you think you would learn in the course described in the scenario, with 0 meaning you would learn nothing and 9 meaning you would learn more than in any other class you ve had? This procedure was originated by Richmond, Gorham, and McCroskey (1987) to collect perceived learning data during and=or following a course. The single-item perceived learning score and the associated 2-item learning loss score have been widely used in communication research and are sometimes interpreted as measures of perceived cognitive learning (Christophel, 1990; Frymier, 1994; Menzell & Carrell, 1999; Rodriguez, Plax, & Kearney, 1996). Given the hypothetical nature of the scenarios used to create these experimental conditions, the single-item scores obtained through this measure were interpreted as indicators of students expectations for learning. Expected Affect for Teacher and Course Content The semantic differential scale Affective Learning (Andersen, 1979; Scott & Wheeless, 1975) was used to measure students expected affect for teacher and course content. This instrument has been widely used to measure student affect during or following a course. In this study,

6 428 P. L. Witt the measure provided affective responses after reading the first-day scenarios, instead of following actual instruction or course content. Given the hypothetical nature of the scenarios used to depict these experimental conditions, the Affective Learning scores obtained in this study were interpreted as indicators of students expectations for affective learning if they were to take the course described in the scenario. Two four-item factors from the Affective Learning measure were selected for use in this study. On a scale of 1 to 7 (Good to Bad, Positive to Negative, etc.), students indicated responses about the content=subject matter described in the scenario and the course instructor described in the scenario. Reliability of the Affective Learning scale has ranged from.86 to.98 (Gorham, 1988; Kearney & McCroskey, 1980; Kearney, Plax, & Wendt-Wasco, 1985; Plax, Kearney, McCroskey, & Richmond, 1986). Alpha reliabilities obtained in this study were.89 (Cronbach, 1951). DESIGN AND METHOD OF ANALYSIS Each of the three hypotheses was tested using a one-tailed t-test of the hypothesized difference between student responses in the presence of a Web site and absence of a Web site. Differences were tested using the error term derived from the two-way analysis of variance used to explore the research question. Hypotheses were tested at a.05 level of significance. RESULTS Results from the t-test failed to support the first hypothesis (see Table 1). No significant differences were detected between students perceptions of teacher credibility based on the presence or absence of a course Web site (Presence M ¼ 33.21, n ¼ 114 vs. Absence M ¼ 33.34, n ¼ 111). Results from the t-test failed to support the second hypothesis (see Table 1). No significant differences were detected between the learning expectations of students based on the presence or absence of a course Web site (Presence M ¼ 5.78, n ¼ 107 vs. Absence M ¼ 5.95, n ¼ 108). Results from the t-test failed to support the third hypothesis (see Table 1). No significant differences were detected between the affective learning expectations of students based on the presence or absence of a course Web site (Presence M ¼ 43.80, n ¼ 114 vs. Absence M ¼ 45.20, n ¼ 112). The research question was explored using a two-way analysis of variance to test for differences related to the gender of the

7 Students Learning Expectations 429 TABLE 1 Means on Learning Expectations and Perceptions of Teacher Credibility in the Presence and Absence of a Course Web Site Experimental conditions Perceptions of teacher credibility H 1 Perceived learning expectations H 2 Affective learning expectations H 3 Presence of a course Web site n ¼ 114 Absence of a course Web site n ¼ 111 Note: No significant differences were detected, p ¼ n ¼ n ¼ n ¼ n ¼ 112 instructor described in the scenario. Results failed to indicate any significant differences between students perceptions of teacher credibility or learning expectations based on the gender of the instructor. See Table 2 for the mean scores for each experimental condition on each dependent variable. DISCUSSION It is well documented in instructional communication research that the verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors of classroom teachers can affect both the perceptions and performance of students. Likewise, the use of different course delivery systems such as traditional classroom methodologies and Web-enhanced instruc- TABLE 2 Comparison of Cell Means from Two-Way Analysis of Variance Experimental conditions Perceptions of teacher credibility H 1 Perceived learning expectations H 2 Affective learning expectations H 3 Condition 1: Male teacher with a Web site (n ¼ 56) Condition 2: Male teacher with no Web site (n ¼ 58) Condition 3: Female teacher with a Web site (n ¼ 55) Condition 4: Female teacher with no Web site (n ¼ 57) Note: No significant differences were detected among cell means on any of the three dependent variables, p ¼.05.

8 430 P. L. Witt tion have been shown to influence student attitudes and learning outcomes. The focus of this study was to determine whether the availability of a supplemental course Web site positively influences students perceptions about classroom instructors and the anticipated learning in their courses. Specifically, if the teacher introduces a course Web site at the beginning of the semester, do students perceive the teacher to be more credible, do they expect to learn more in the course, and are these perceptions the same for teachers of either gender? The study extends previous research indicating strong support from the instructors viewpoint that Web sites play an essential role in the success of classroom courses (Witt, 2003). Three hypotheses predicted that course Web sites would have positive effects on certain student perceptions and learning expectations. None of the hypotheses was supported. The first hypothesis predicted that instructors who provide course Web sites would be viewed by students as more credible. It seemed plausible that students would consider Web-savvy instructors as more competent, demonstrating instructional and=or technological expertise beyond the average college teacher, and going beyond the usual course planning to create supplemental resources on the Web. It was hypothesized that students would perceive these instructors as more competent and credible. However, students in experimental groups whose scenario included Web sites reported no higher perceptions of teacher credibility than those without sites. Likewise, the second hypothesis predicted higher expectations for learning in the presence of a Web site, based on the assumption that the Web would be viewed by students as an effective instructional medium that would support or extend instruction received in the classroom. Presumably, students would expect to receive more instruction, or better instruction, through the use of a course Web site than through classroom delivery alone. Even if the site did not contain essential instructional content, it was predicted that the continuous access to course information would likely give students a higher expectation for overall learning in the course. However, this hypothesis was not supported. Students scores on perceived learning expectations were not higher in the experimental groups whose scenario included a supplemental course Web site. The third hypothesis, that student affect for teacher and course content would be enhanced in the presence of a course site, was based on the assumption that students like the Internet and consider Web-supported courses more enjoyable or more effective than traditional classroom methods alone. It follows that students would have

9 Students Learning Expectations 431 more positive feelings toward instructors who employ the Web as a current communication medium, in contrast to more traditional teachers whose instruction does not incorporate digital technologies. It was further assumed that students like the variety of face-to-face classroom experiences coupled with Web-based instruction or information transmission, compared with more traditional methods. If these assumptions were true, the presence of a course Web site and its appropriate use would likely enhance students feelings toward the course content and instructor. However, in the experimental groups whose scenario included a supplemental course Web site, expectations for affective learning were not significantly higher for either content or instructor. The research question addressed the possibility that students might respond differently to supplemental Web sites depending on whether the course was taught by a male or female instructor. No such differences were detected in this study. Previous gender research has, in certain contexts, documented different student responses to the verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors of male and female instructors. Moreover, there are typically fewer women on engineering and science faculties, where Web sites and other digital technologies are more frequently employed. In these settings, the presence of a female teacher whose course incorporates a Web site might constitute a positive expectancy violation, potentially enhancing some student perceptions (Burgoon, 1983). However, no measurable differences could be attributed to teacher gender for any of the dependent variables in this study. Post hoc analyses also searched for any possible effects based on student gender, and no measurable differences were detected. Male and female students across the four experimental conditions did not differ significantly in their perceptions or learning expectations based on the first-day scenarios. Overall, then, the results of this study were clear and consistent: Instructors who developed supplemental course Web sites were not viewed as more credible, nor did students expect to learn more in the course or like the course or instructor more than if no such Web site were present. These results call for the revisiting of some of the assumptions that shaped the hypotheses. First, is it certain that students like Web-enhanced instruction more than face-to-face instruction alone? Recall that McComb (1994) reported on one group of students in the mid-1990s who preferred face-to-face instruction. It may be that many twenty-first century students retain similar preferences, despite greater familiarity with the Internet and more advanced skills in online communication. Students who do not have fast Internet access at home may find Web-based communication or

10 432 P. L. Witt instruction to be inconvenient. Those with dial-up connections may experience slow downloads, and those with no Internet access at home may have to go to campus for Internet access in computer labs. Students who have broadband access at home might view the Web primarily as an entertainment medium, a place to go for movie times and MP3 downloads. The use of the Internet for instructional material associated with classroom courses might even be perceived by some students as the encroachment of higher education into their personal communication media. Since any of these speculations could be true, and all may be present to some degree across the college student population, overall student reaction may not be very positive toward classroom course content on the Web. It was further assumed that, at the beginning of the semester, students form certain learning expectations and anticipate the learning that could potentially occur in a course. While this may be true for many students, it is undeniable that for a percentage of students the primary goal is to receive credit for the course with a minimum of inconvenience to themselves. For these students, adding a Web site as a source of information or instruction might be viewed as a nuisance, another resource to monitor, or another requirement to complete. One cynical student said of Web-enhanced instruction, At worst, it s an irritant; at best, it s the same thing in a different format. To the extent that these comments are based on the student s actual course experience, they serve as reinforcement for Lane and Shelton s criticism, that Web sites have been established, listservs setup, course materials digitally processed and displayed without careful consideration of the pedagogical value of the communication medium (2001, pp ). It is important to note that the students included in this study offered conflicting viewpoints to those of the teachers reported in Witt (2003), and the initial question remains: Are supplemental course Web sites worth the trouble? Previous research indicates Yes from the viewpoint of instructors who create and use the sites in their classroom courses; but the results of this study indicate No, because no positive effects were detected on students perceptions of teacher credibility or learning expectations for the course. It is not unusual for teachers and students to hold contrasting opinions about teaching and learning, and in this case the dissimilarity of viewpoints may be explained by examining the instructors motivation to create the sites. The majority of teachers in the original study (87%) cited their primary goal for the site was to provide continuous central access to course information (Witt, 2003). This administrative goal may represent a higher priority for teachers than for students, who are accus-

11 Students Learning Expectations 433 tomed to receiving handouts in class and asking the teacher for materials they missed when absent. Furthermore, as noted above, teachers who post class materials online shift to the student the task of retrieving and printing the document, a positive result from the teachers viewpoint but perhaps not welcomed by students. These and other factors could explain why the instructors are very pleased with the effects of the course Web site, while students may respond to sites with less enthusiasm. Of course, learning expectations and perceptions of teacher credibility are not the only ways in which course Web sites might achieve desirable effects. Despite the findings of this study, it would be premature to conclude that Web sites have no positive effects at all for students in classroom courses. Careful study should be made of the uses and functions of the sites, not only their presence or availability. Future researchers should examine students actual use of the sites, how frequently they visit them, what they do there, and whether learning outcomes change as a result. Moreover, actual learning measures taken during or after a course would give more valid information than expected learning scores based on hypothetical scenarios. Finally, future results should be interpreted in view of students evolving opinions about the Internet in general and Webassisted learning in particular. Clearly, these important questions are worthy of ongoing research by scholars in the fields of Communication and Education. In the meantime, college instructors should carefully examine their objectives before investing the resources necessary to create or maintain Web sites for classroom courses. So far there is no clear indication that this specific Web-enhancement produces any positive effects on student perceptions of teacher credibility or learning expectations for the course. REFERENCES Althaus, S. L. (1997). Computer-mediated communication in the university classroom: An experiment with on-line discussions. Communication Education, 46, Andersen, J. F. (1979). Teacher immediacy as a predictor of teaching effectiveness. Communication Yearbook, 3, Beatty, M. J., & Behnke, R. R. (1980). Teacher credibility as a function of verbal content and paralinguistic cues. Communication Quarterly, 28, Beatty, M. J., & Zahn, C. J. (1990). Are student ratings of communication instructors due to easy grading practices? An analysis of teacher credibility and student-reported performance levels. Communication Education, 39, Burgoon, J. K. (1983). Nonverbal violations of expectations. In J. M. Wiemann & R. P. Harrison (Eds.), Nonverbal interaction (pp ). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

12 434 P. L. Witt Christophel, D. M. (1990). The relationships among teacher immediacy behaviors, student motivation, and learning. Communication Education, 37, Cronbach, L. J. (1951). Coefficient alpha and the internal structure of tests. Psychometrika, 16, Frymier, A. B. (1994). A model of immediacy in the classroom. Communication Quarterly, 42, Gorham, J. (1988). The relationship between verbal teacher immediacy behaviors and student learning. Communication Education, 37, Jackson, S. A., & Madison, C. (1999). Instruction by design: Technology in the discourse of teaching and learning. In A. L. Vangelisti, J. A. Daly, & G. W. Friedrich (Eds.), Teaching communication: Theory, research, and methods (pp ). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Kearney, P., & McCroskey, J. C. (1980). Relationships among teacher communication style, trait and state communication apprehension and teacher effectiveness. Communication Yearbook, 4, Kearney, P., Plax, T. G., & Wendt-Wasco, N. J. (1985). Teacher immediacy for affective learning in divergent college courses. Communication Quarterly, 33, Lane, D. R., & Shelton, M. W. (2001). The centrality of communication education in classroom computer-mediated communication: Toward a practical and evaluative pedagogy. Communication Education, 50, McComb, M. (1994). Benefits of computer-mediated communication in college courses. Communication Education, 43, McCroskey, J. C. (1966). Special reports: Scales for the measurement of ethos. Speech Monographs, 33, McCroskey, J. C., & Young, T. J. (1981). Ethos and credibility: The construct and its measurement after decades. Central States Speech Journal, 32, Menzell, K. E., & Carrell, L. J. (1999). The impact of gender and immediacy on willingness to talk and perceived learning. Communication Education, 48, Plax, T. G., Kearney, P., McCroskey, J. C., & Richmond, V. P. (1986). Power in the classroom VI: Verbal control strategies, nonverbal immediacy and affective learning. Communication Education, 35, Richmond, V. P., Gorham, J. S., & McCroskey, J. C. (1987). The relationship between selected immediacy behaviors and cognitive learning. In M. L. McLaughlin (Ed.), Communication yearbook 10 (pp ). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Rodriguez, J. L., Plax, T. G., & Kearney, P. (1996). Clarifying the relationship between teacher nonverbal immediacy and student cognitive learning: Affective learning as the central causal mediator. Communication Education, 45, Scott, M. D. & Wheeless, L. R. (1975). Communication apprehension, student attitudes, and levels of satisfaction. Western Journal of Speech Communication, 41, Witt, P. L. (2003). Enhancing classroom courses with Internet technology: Are course Web sites worth the trouble? Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 27, Witt, P. L., & Woodruff, A. M. (2001, November). Radical communication on the Internet: Are course Web sites worth the trouble? Unpublished paper presented at the annual convention of the National Communication Association, Atlanta, GA.

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