The Relationship Between Best Online Instructional Practices and Undergraduate Student Perceptions of Instructor Credibility at a Large, Four-Year, Public, Open University

Award Winner: 
2013 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award
Collection: 
Student-Generated Content
Author Information
Author(s): 
Dr. Amanda Marie Knapp
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Large, Four-Year, Public Institution on the East Coast
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Numerous scholars have pointed to positive associations between student perceptions of instructor credibility and student outcomes (i.e., cognitive learning, higher motivation, and increased willingness to participate in and out of class); however, their work has primarily considered traditional-aged students in the traditional classroom setting. Given the significant growth in distance education enrollments at post-secondary institutions across the United States (U.S.), the lens through which instructor credibility has traditionally been examined is broadened by this study.

Drawing upon the work of McCroskey and Teven (1999), this mixed-methods research study explored the relationship between best online instructional practices and undergraduate student perceptions of instructor credibility as defined on three dimensions: competence, caring, and trustworthiness. Emphasis was placed on the six best online instructional practices that McCollum & Abdul-Hamid (2011) determined to be associated with student success (higher pass rates and lower withdrawal rates).

Based on data obtained from an online survey instrument in which 67 responses were collected from undergraduate students (82 percent adults, 47 percent minorities, and 70 percent female) enrolled in multiple sections of a fully online upper-level course from within the communication field of study along with data from 16 synchronous online interviews, it was concluded that there is a significant and positive relationship between four of the six best online instructional practices (continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence), incorporate learning modules (targeted and logically placed), draw from experiences and introduce students to cultures and subcultures to add relevance, and provide opportunities for collaborative learning) and student perceptions of instructor credibility on at least one of three dimensions of credibility. The best online instructional practice of continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence), however, proved to be most meaningful with respect to student perceptions of instructor credibility, as the relationship between the two were consistently strongest across all three dimensions (competence, caring, and trustworthiness).

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Given the steady increases in online enrollments across post-secondary institutions in the U.S. over the past decade alone, this study is, in some respect, overdue. While, the overall findings of this study provide some insight into the relationship between best online instructional practices and student perceptions of instructor credibility, there still remain a number of important research opportunities in this domain yet to explore. For now, the data from this study provides a foundation for which future research can build upon.

In summary, this study addressed two research questions. The first question, which was addressed primarily by means of an online student survey instrument, led to significant findings. Using the Fisher’s Exact Test to analyze the results of the online student survey, findings suggest that there is a significant and positive relationship between four of the six best online instructional practices as defined in the BOIPS and student perceptions of instructor credibility on at least one credibility dimension. The four best online instructional practices that appeared to significantly influence student perceptions of instructor credibility included:

o There was a positive relationship between continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence) and instructor credibility on three dimensions: (competence, caring, and trustworthiness).

o There was a positive relationship between incorporate learning modules (targeted and logically placed) and instructor credibility on two dimensions: (competence and caring).

o There was a positive relationship between draw from experiences and introduce students to cultures and subcultures to add relevance and instructor credibility on two dimensions: (caring and trustworthiness).

o There was a positive relationship between provide opportunities for collaborative learning and instructor credibility on one dimension: (trustworthiness).

While student perceptions of instructor credibility may vary from one dimension to the next (competence, caring, and trustworthiness), studies show that instructors who are deemed most credible by students are those who score high across all three dimensions (McCroskey, 1998). As such, the findings of this study as related to the best online instructional practice of continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence) is significant with respect to the literature as it consistently influenced student perceptions of instructor credibility on all three credibility dimensions (competence, caring, and trustworthiness).

The second research question, which was addressed by way of conducting 16 online synchronous interviews, provided confirmatory evidence to support the survey findings. Using a multi-phased qualitative coding process to analyze the interview transcripts, the results showed that when students were asked to describe the teaching practices of a credible online instructor, they consistently described the same four best online instructional practices that were deemed statistically significant using the Fisher’s Exact Test: continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence), incorporate learning modules (targeted and logically placed), draw from experiences and introduce students to cultures and subcultures to add relevance, and provide opportunities for collaborative learning.

Despite some of the limitations of this study, including a lower than anticipated response rate, there is reason to believe that the overall findings are significant and should not be dismissed. First, it should be noted that the 67 survey respondents upon which the primary data was collected were diverse across various demographic factors consisting of adults (82 percent), minorities (47 percent), and female students (70 percent). This is important to the integrity of this study in the sense that the student population upon which the findings rest is highly reflective of the student population addressed in the literature review as well as the student population of the research site which consists mostly of adults (average age of 32), minority (44 percent), and females (53 percent).

Second, while this study did rely on conservative statistical measures such as the Fisher’s Exact Test, and the Cramer’s V Test, the findings were strengthened by the fact that the data was triangulated. Given that the study employed a mixed-methods design in which data was gathered via multiple sources (quantitative survey and qualitative interviews) there is strength in the final interpretation (Mertens, 2005).

As distance education enrollments continue to grow or even plateau, as predicted in the literature, it will be all the more essential for educators and administrators to further their understanding of best online instructional frameworks, through this and future studies, to best support the needs of diverse student populations such as those described in this study: adult, minority, and female students. At minimum, the findings of this study should not go overlooked given that, “the higher the credibility, the higher the learning” (Thweatt & McCroskey, 1998).

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Instructor Credibility Crossed with Best Online Instructional Practices
Fisher's Exact Test Two-sided Pr <= P Statistical SignificanceP<.05

COMPETENCE
Continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence) 0.0025 Significant
Draw from experiences and introduce students to cultures and subcultures to add relevance 0.1083 Not Significant
Incorporate learning modules (targeted and logically placed) 0.0170 Significant
Provide opportunities for collaborative learning 0.1083 Not Significant
Encourage goal incorporation into the course 0.0611 Not Significant
Encourage multiple approaches to solving problems 0.0611 Not Significant

CARING
Continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence) 0.0000868 Significant
Draw from experiences and introduce students to cultures and subcultures to add relevance 0.0018 Significant
Incorporate learning modules (targeted and logically placed) 0.0118 Significant
Provide opportunities for collaborative learning 0.1092 Not Significant
Encourage goal incorporation into the course 0.0541 Not Significant
Encourage multiple approaches to solving problems 0.0541 Not Significant

TRUSTWORTHINESS
Continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence) 0.0204 Significant
Draw from experiences and introduce students to cultures and subcultures to add relevance 0.0412 Significant
Incorporate learning modules (targeted and logically placed) 0.0692 Not Significant
Provide opportunities for collaborative learning 0.0412 Significant
Encourage goal incorporation into the course 0.1588 Not Significant
Encourage multiple approaches to solving problems 0.1588 Not Significant

With respect to the credibility dimension of competence, two best online instructional practices proved to be statistically significant (p<.05), indicating a positive relationship. These instructional practices included: continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence) (Pr <=P, 0.0025) and incorporate learning modules (targeted and logically placed) (Pr <=P, 0.0170).

With respect to the credibility dimension of caring, three best online instructional practices proved to be statistically significant (p<.05), indicating a positive relationship. These instructional practices included: continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence) (Pr <=P, 0.0000868), draw from experiences and introduce students to cultures and subcultures to add relevance (Pr <=P, 0.0018), and incorporate learning modules (targeted and logically placed) (Pr <=P, 0.0118).
With respect to the final credibility dimension of trustworthiness, three best online instructional practices proved to be statistically significant (p<.05), indicating a positive relationship. These instructional practices included: continuous involvement and feedback from faculty (immediacy/presence) (Pr <=P, 0.0204), draw from experiences and introduce students to cultures and subcultures to add relevance (Pr <=P, 0.0412), and provide opportunities for collaborative learning (Pr <=P, 0.0412).

The findings that resulted by crossing best online instructional practices summary scores with credibility summary scores, using the Fisher’s Exact Test, were significant in 8 out of 18 cases (38 percent). Of those cases that were deemed statistically significant, the null hypothesis as related to RQ1 was rejected.

H0: Best online instructional practices do not influence student perceptions of instructor credibility on any of the three dimensions: competence, trustworthiness, and caring.

While 10 of the 18 cases remaining were not deemed statistically significant (<.05) in which the null hypothesis was retained, it should be noted that five of them were nearly significant per the Fisher’s Exact Test. With respect to the credibility dimensions of competence and caring, encourage goal incorporation into the course and encourage multiple approaches to solving problems were nearly significant (Pr <=P, 0.0611). The same was true for the credibility dimension of trustworthiness where incorporate learning modules (targeted and logically placed) was nearly significant (Pr <=P, 0.0692).

While this study will not focus specifically on the 5 nearly significant results, there is reason to believe that these particular best online instructional practices, like the four deemed statistically significant may in fact point to a positive relationship which influences student perceptions of instructor credibility.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Overall, the best online instructional practices suggested in this study relates to student and faculty satisfaction, but most importantly to learning effectiveness. At minimum, the findings of this study should not go overlooked given that, “the higher the credibility, the higher the learning” (Thweatt & McCroskey, 1998).

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

NA

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

For institutions providing online education, it is simply a change in practice. Any possible costs would be minimal and related to faculty training.

References, supporting documents: 

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Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Dr. Amanda Marie Knapp
Email this contact: 
aknapp@umbc.edu

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Online Instructor Credibility

Congratulation Dr. Knapp, again you have produced meaningful and timely research for our field. You certainly deserve The Sloan Consortium Award that you are receiving and I look forward to your future work.