Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Reader Writes: "Here's An Article I'm Putting on WebCT."

“You are such a great teacher and I hate to bother you but…”: 
Instructors' perceptions of students and their use of email messages with varying politeness strategies 
by San Bolkan* & Jennifer Linn Holmgren
 from Communication Education: Volume 61, Issue 3, 2012


It's not your email I hate, it's you.
Participants were exposed to one of five hypothetical emails from a student regarding the possibility of meeting outside of scheduled office hours to discuss an exam grade. Each of the scenarios differed in its level of politeness according to Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness strategies... After reading one of the five hypothetical emails, participants were asked to respond to a variety of measures as they pertained to both the message and to their perceptions of the hypothetical student who sent the message.

The results are summarized pretty well in their Table 1, which shows the correlations between level of politeness of the message, the instructor's affect toward the student (e.g., "he's a fool"), the instructor's estimate of the student's probable success in the course(very low to very high), the instructor's perception of the student's competence, and the instructor's level of motivation to work with the student (i.e., acquiesce to the student's demands in the email).

They suggest that Affect ("I hate you") is the mediating factor that strongly influences an instructor's motivation to work with the student and his/her perception of that student's competence and likely success. The positive correlations mean that more politeness = more positive affect = higher motivation and greater perceived competence and likely success. There are a lot of juicy bits in the general discussion, but this one was my favorite:

If students are not mindful of their use of emails, their communication with professors could be problematic considering the negative effects of less polite messages. This is especially the case considering that Stephens et al. (2009) found that students are less bothered by casual or impolite emails than professors, and that Foral et al. (2010) found that faculty members perceive students’ tones change to be more unprofessional in email when compared to face-to-face interactions. Thus, students may be sending messages that harm their relationships with their instructors... If professors’ perceptions of students > are less favorable, students may not receive many of the benefits of out-of-class communication, and therefore may be diminishing their potential for academic success by reducing their instructors’ motivation to work with them and perceptions of their potential in class.

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