CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #4 “All by yourself…alone”

CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #4

“All by yourself…alone ”

Now that many of us have received the results of student evaluations from last semester, it is a good time to talk about how students perceive us in the classroom. One of the factors that greatly affects this perception is teacher immediacy. Teacher immediacy is a term used to describe communication behaviors that reduce the perceived distance between teacher and students.  By definition, immediacy behaviors convey teacher warmth, communicate positive relational affect, signal approach and availability for communication, and create increased receptivity in receivers. Students’ perceptions arise from an overall impression of the degree of immediacy behaviors rather than from single cues.  The research consistently shows that immediacy has a positive effect on teacher and course perception. These of course then can have a positive effect on student motivation and performance.

First described by Meharabian (1969) as behaviors that enhance closeness and nonverbal interaction with another, the definition was extended by Gorham (1988) to include verbal interaction that increased psychological closeness between teachers and students. Verbal immediacy includes the use of humor, frequent use of student name, encouragement of discussion and following up on student-initiated comments, encouraging future contact with students, and sharing of personal examples; nonverbal immediacy includes smiling, eye contact, vocal expressiveness, open gestures and body movement behaviors by the instructor. Immediate teachers often encourage students to appreciate or value the learning task, which in turn, has been found to enhance cognitive learning (Rodriquez, Plax & Kearney 1996)

Some behaviors that can increase teacher immediacy: reducing the actual physical distance between you and your students: smiling – simple, but very effective (You’d be surprised how often instructors don’t smile.), making appropriately friendly eye contact, and being vocally expressive.

Some behaviors that can decrease teacher immediacy: standing or sitting with “closed” body positions, moving away from your students – your whole body or just your upper body, avoiding eye contact, and negative tones and language.

While behaviors on the “can increase” list help us to be perceived as more accessible to students (hopefully demonstrating actual accessibility) many of us do not do them when we become uncomfortable or insecure in the classroom. In fact, most of us start exhibiting behaviors from the “can decrease” list. We might pull back physically when we feel that we’ve lost our students or feel that they are judging us in some way. Or, we might become overly critical, negative, or domineering. All of these things increase the distance between a teacher and his or her students and erode trust and respect.

Students get worried when they suddenly feel a distance open up between the teacher and the class. They will most always assume that it’s the teacher’s fault. They will often assume the teacher: doesn’t care about them, is judging them as unfit or unworthy, or doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Be prepared before you find yourself in this situation. First, figure out something you do easily and well that increases teacher immediacy – something that always works for you, something that is your strength. Then have a plan; be ready to pull out your “method” to regain your own focus and reconnect with your students whenever things get dicey in your classroom. For one instructor this might mean telling a story; for another, it could be taking a poll or asking students to give examples from their own lives. It doesn’t matter as long as it works for you and your students. Take back your class. Don’t let your perception of their judgments of you cause you to distance yourself from them. Even if they caused the rift, it’s your job to close it.

A short selection of resources:

Allen, Jerry L., et al. “Students’ Predispositions and Orientations toward Communication and Perceptions of Instructor Reciprocity and Learning.” Communication Education 57.1 (2008): 20-40. Academic Search Complete.

Andersen, Janis and Peter Anderson. “Teacher Immediacy.” Blackwell Reference Online.

Goodboy, Alan K., and Scott A. Myers “The Relationship Between Perceived Instructor Immediacy and Student Challenge Behavior.” Journal of Instructional Psychology 36.2 (2009): 108-112. Academic Search Complete.

Hutchins, Holly M. “Instructional Immediacy and the Seven Principles: Strategies for Faciliating Online Courses.” Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume VI, Number 111 (2003).

*Put these letters in front for off-campus access:

CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Contact Director Cinse Bonino for a one-on-one CIP instructional design session:

Email: or Phone: 802 651 5965 Skype: cinse.cip



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