Student Anxiety Online and What to Do

Student Anxiety and Correspondence

Anxious, you walk into a class on exam day as you – a student – nervously attempt to recall every detail from the study guide or your notes. Palms sweat. Forehead perspires and aches. You shake your hands. Maybe you tap your foot. The same anxiety exists for students in an online, hybrid course, or f2f class with mix-use technology.

Flipped Classroom Anxiety

In Monday night’s research blog, I mentioned some concerns college students experience with flipped classrooms. According to Educause in its article “7 Things You Should Know About … Flipped Classrooms,” “The flipped classroom is an easy model to get wrong” because it requires “careful preparation” (2). Considering students with disabilities such as hearing impairments, captions in flipped classroom lessons can help. But, students face anxiety for different reasons whether it’s how a flipped classroom works or does not work with their disability, the professor responds, or access to technology.

Disabilities and Access

As a teacher assistant working with students with different neurological disabilities, I think a lot about how a hybrid or mix-use classroom would cause students’ anxiety. I have also worked with many students who lack or have limited access to the Internet and technology. Jeffrey Stowell, Wesley Allan, and Samantha Teoro argued in “Emotions Experienced by Students Taking Online and Classroom Quizzes” that one of the causes of student anxiety in an online or hybrid classroom is test anxiety, and that teachers should “also be concerned about possible disadvantages to students who do not have computer access at home, which would necessitate that these students access a computer lab” (94). Access to computers and the Internet is a significant concern for some students. I think it is easy for some teachers to assume that students taking an online or hybrid course have access. They may take the class because it is required, and have decided to figure out what to do about Internet access when the class starts.

Testing

In addition to concerns about access, Stowell, Allan, and Teoro found that students who experienced less anxiety in class “had significantly higher text anxiety” in a survey about emotions for a psychology study after taking online quizzes (93). One reason students worry deals with the teachers’ use of “‘item banking'” in which different questions are used for different students (94). Scott Warnock has repeated in various chapters in Teaching Writing Online that if a CMS can select random questions for different students on a timed quiz, it reduces chances of cheating. Warnock has also stated that to reduce anxiety with quizzes make them easy, short, and part of low-stakes testing. No matter how a teacher approaches online quizzes, some students will still deal with anxiety. What teachers can do is find ways to reduce anxiety for testing, flipped classrooms, and student access to technology.

Communication

I think communication is extremely important, if not more important, between teachers and students in a hybrid or mix-use classroom because the conversation evolves from discussions and lectures in a traditional f2f to what makes up an online environment. I use hybrid and mix-use classroom because I anticipate teaching either hybrid classes or classes which use a lot of technology in the classroom. From reading and discussions in Dr. Kavin Ming’s READ 645 class, I have learned students can teach instructors many lessons about technology. There might be a tool or access issue the teacher faces, and one of the technological savvy students helps the teacher solve the issue. In this situation, the classroom become student driven incorporating the student’s talents. The teacher allows for student leadership. To communicate through example becomes one of the teacher’s most powerful assets because he or she discovers what works and what does not work for particular students.

But, not every student is ready to approach a leadership role. Students still have doubts or concerns about how to communicate in a hybrid environment. Two tools I like for communicating with students in a hybrid or online course include Skype and Twitter. Skype is a great synchronous tool allowing for face-to-face time with the teacher. It may ease student anxiety by having one-on-one time with the teacher. I have always thought putting a face with a name helps establish a connection, and that should not change in an online environment. By using Skype or posting a video, Warnock writes that it “can help lock students back into the idea that you are a real teacher” (145). You want students to be invested in the course, and I believe they are only invested to the extent they perceive their instructors is invested in the course.

A middle school principal in Kings Mountain, N.C. once told me one of the best quotes I’d ever heard regarding middle school students. “To them, everything is all about perception.” I believe this quote extends to high school, and to a degree, to underclassmen in college. How students’ perceive teachers and their investment of time plays a significant role in student participation, interaction, and anxiety. To help students’ comfort in a course, get to know them. Early in Teaching Writing Online, Warnock writes that teachers can use ice breakers online to get to know students. I believe you can do this throughout the course. Teachers can use a tool like Twitter to find out details about a student’s interests, and how to incorporate them into the course.

Twitter can be a great tool if the professor uses it regularly, and discusses before the class officially takes off how students use Twitter. I think the best way to communicate this is either through email or a discussion thread on the professor’s class website. Students can express what they like or dislike about using Twitter. The professor or teacher knows ahead of time. Using that information, teachers create a sense of community online.

Bibliography

Educause Learning Institute. “7 Things You Should Know About … Flipped Classrooms.” Educause. 2012. Web. 13 July 2014.

Stowell, Jeffrey, Wesley Allan, and Samantha Teoro. “Emotions Experienced by Students Taking Online and Classroom Quizzes.” Journal of Educational Computing Research 47.1 (2012): 93-106. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson) Web. 16 July 2014.

Warnock, Scott W. “Pacing and Predictability: Help Students Get Comfortable in the OWCourse.” Teaching Writing Online. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2009. 143-146. Print.

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1 Comment

  1. Test anxiety has been a significant issue for my developmental students. You are exactly right–some students may not be nervous in class but completely freak out during tests. I had to go grab a stress ball for one of my students one time because she started doing this weird repetitive hand movement during an essay test, which I later learned was a precursor to a panic attack. Thank goodness for stress balls!

    This analysis is an excellent overview of some of the issues and ways to prevent those issues when teaching online. Thanks for the great information!

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