Exploring the psychological terrain of the virtual classroom: The nature of relationship and power in online teaching and learning
This qualitative case study explores college instructors' and both undergraduate and graduate students' experiences of relationship and power in online, asynchronous course work. It also explores the effect of electronic technology on these human dynamics. Phenomenological and feminist methods were applied to investigate the complexities of relational connection, disconnection, and reconnection in online instructor-student interaction.
Data analysis suggests that the majority of the students and instructors who participated in these online courses did so for practical reasons, particularly convenience and flexibility. But all of these participants also had expectations of instructor-student relationships. Given these expectations of human connection, the instructors' and students' presence, that is the degree to which they perceived each other as real, caring, and responsive, was a major factor in their productive course engagement. Students and instructors who could not or did not develop and sustain human connections in this mediated environment disconnected from each other and from course content.
The results of this study suggest the need for an expanded concept of relational presence that integrates communication theory and relational psychology. Relational presence explores the psychological implications of both presence and absence in instructor-student interactions in the online classroom.
As a function of instructors' and students' social interaction, how they used power was directly related to their feelings of connection or disconnection. Instructors and students who felt connected tended to share power, while feelings of disconnection tended to result in frustration, resistance and withdrawal.
In this study, human dynamics were mediated by the virtual nature of this educational medium. The degree to which instructors and students understood and were able to effectively use this medium to communicate, establish connection, and exert influence significantly affected their engagement with the course and their outcomes.
As online instructors and students in this study attempted to develop and sustain meaningful, productive connections, they experienced a series of tensions, including presence/absence, independence/isolation, power over/power with, and attraction/aversion. How instructors and students understood and resolved these relational, power, and technological tensions, in large part, shaped their online course experiences.
0710: Educational software
0525: Educational psychology