Even with all of its convenience and portability,
the online classroom is still seen by many as
lacking the human “connectivity” of face to face
courses. In fact, many empirical studies note that a
major reason why many faculty who teach online still
prefer to teach face to face is because they
perceive they are more capable of “connecting” with
their students and assessing their understanding in
a traditional setting (Allen & Seaman, 2006; Bower,
2001; McKenzie, Mims, Bennett, & Waugh, 2000; Oomen-Early
& Murphy, 2008). However, one must question whether
this “virtual divide” of human emotion will shrink
with the onset of Web 2.0 technology. The term “Web
2.0” has been defined in a number of ways. Some
“empowering,” user-friendly online tools that create a
“richer online experience” for the user (Frost,
second generation of services available on the
World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and
share information online."
the “Live Web” that puts the “We” in “Web”
technology (Frost, 2006)
“new generation” of the web is revolutionary in its
ability to reach the “everyday” user. As Andrew Keen
of the Weekly Standard writes:
Even the most
poorly educated and inarticulate among us -- can and
should use digital media to express and realize
themselves. Web 2.0 'empowers' our creativity, it
'democratizes' media, it 'levels the playing field'
between experts and amateurs. The enemy of Web 2.0
is 'elitist' traditional media. (Keen, n.d., ¶ 1).
Creating more “Interpersonal” Web 2.0 Online
The learning domains of cognitive, affective, and
psychomotor made famous by Benjamin Bloom in 1954
have been expanded in recent years to include the
“social” or “interpersonal” learning domain.
Education researchers such as Anderson and Krathwohl
(2001) suggest that developing skills of interaction
and collaboration have never been more important
than in today’s volatile world. The interpersonal
domain is not best handled with just text on a
screen. Web 2.0 technology includes a number of
communication tools which connect people more
effectively and allow them to share information,
ideas, and opinions online almost instantaneously.
Some of these tools include wikis, blogs, videoblogs,
digital video such as Youtube, digital photo hosting
and sharing services such as Flickr or Photobucket;
webcasts, podcasts, instant messaging, social
bookmarking, satellite mapping such as Googlemaps,
and asynchronous audio communication (just to name a
few!). Could use of this technology contribute to
more “interpersonal” online classrooms and enhance
connectivity and collaboration between students and
instructors? How might integration of these tools
impact students’ motivation and improve upon
retention? These questions largely remain unexplored
in the current E-learning empirical knowledge base.
Providing “Affective” Instructor Feedback
There is no doubt that instructor feedback is
important to enhance student learning. However, much
of what has been researched about instructor
feedback has been exclusive to the traditional
& Pearce, 1998; Gorham, 1988; Walther & Burgoon,
1992). Only recently have researchers
begun to investigate the complex role instructor
feedback plays in online education (Gallien & Oomen-Early,
2008; Ice, Curtis, Wells, & Phillip, 2007; Offerman,
Pearce & Tassava, 2006). Indeed, understanding how
feedback facilitates or hinders online learning is
key to creating effective instruction and enhancing
Recent findings have shown that online learners’
levels of satisfaction, performance, and sense of
community are related to the interactions they have
with their instructors, including the type and
frequency of feedback they receive on assignments
and course material (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008).
Until recently, studies have examined text-based
feedback only, either delivered through email or via
the course management system (e.g., Blackboard or
WebCT). The nature of this type of feedback (i.e.,
lack of verbal and nonverbal information) challenges
two important factors related to successful online
learning: social presence and instructor immediacy
Social presence refers to the degree to which
individuals perceive others to be real in the
learning environment, a model long-established in
the literature (Short, Williams & Christie, 1976).
According to Richardson and Swan (2003), this
perception of human presence is essential for
students and faculty to develop personal
relationships and communities online, which in turn
appears to have a positive influence on learner
satisfaction and performance (Newberry, 2001;
Richardson & Swan, 2003). Hackman and Walker (1990)
said, “social presence is influenced by the delivery
modes utilized for specific communication
functions,” including the way in which feedback is
delivered (p. 198).
Teacher immediacy behaviors enhance closeness
(relationships) as well by reducing the
psychological distance (i.e., perceived distance)
between individuals (Hackman & Walker, 1990). Some
of the behaviors used by teachers to produce
immediacy and build a sense of psychological
closeness include verbal encouragement, praising,
asking questions, using humor, and self-disclosure (Hackman
& Walker, 1990; Woods & Baker, 2004). Studies have
shown that instructors can project teacher immediacy
behaviors through text-based interactions (Arbaugh,
Although there are critics who believe learning is
hindered in an environment without physical
presence, several studies have shown this not to be
true (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008.; Gunawardena and
Zittle, 1997; Ice, Phillips, and Wells, 2007;
Richard and Swan, 2003; Rourke, Anderson, Garrison &
Archer, 2001; Swan, 2002). Gunawardena and Zittle
(1997), for example, found that a sense of presence
was established through the use of emoticons. The
researchers found that 60% of the variance in
student satisfaction was related to students’
perceptions of presence, which was enhanced by the
use of emoticons as a replacement for nonverbal
cues. Gallien and Oomen-Early (2008) examined
student satisfaction and performance through the use
of two different forms of feedback – personalized
and group-oriented– and determined that students
were more satisfied and performed better when they
received personalized feedback on their assignments.
This study also demonstrated that online instructors
now have the capability through Web 2.0 technologies
to enhance social presence and student engagement
without having a “real time” physical presence.
Recently, Ice, Phillips, and Wells (2007) examined
the use of audio feedback and found that online
learners preferred audio to text-based feedback. The
researchers found that audio was far better than
text-based only in conveying nuance and helping
students retain and apply course content. They also
found that audio feedback positively influenced
students’ perceptions of the instructor as a caring
These studies suggest that human relationships can
be mediated by technology, and that physical
presence is not necessary to provide presence,
awareness, and “interpersonalization.” The use of
audio feedback to enhance a sense of community and
togetherness, and ultimately learning, is the focus
of this research.
Purpose of the Study
purpose of this study was multifaceted: 1) to assess
students’ and instructors’ perceptions of
asynchronous audio instructor feedback as a teaching
and learning tool in the online courseroom; 2) to
determine the perceived effect of AAC on student
satisfaction, learning outcomes, engagement, and
perceived instructor presence; 3) to determine if
there was a significant difference in perceptions of
asynchronous audio instructor feedback between
undergraduate and graduate students attending two
southern public universities, 4) to build upon
previous research relating to online instructor
feedback and AAC (Arbough, 2001; Gallien & Oomen-Early,
2008; Ice, Curtis, Wells, & Phillip, 2007;
Richardson & Swan, 2002).
purpose was addressed through survey data collection
to answer three research questions. Alignment of
survey items to these questions was as follows, with
student response as strongly disagree, disagree,
agree, or strongly agree:
Research question 1: Do students acknowledge benefits of AAC?
Survey item 1: Statement of “helpful”
Survey item 3: Statement of “saves me time”
Survey item 4: Statement of “helps me understand
the content better”
Research question 2: Do students acknowledge impact of AAC on engagement?
Survey item 5: Statement of “better
Survey item 6: Statement of “more engaged in the
Research question 3: Do students indicate a preference for AAC?
Survey item 2: Statement of preference for AAC
rather than written feedback
Survey item 7: Statement of preference for blended
audio and text feedback
(Additionally, the survey included
an item about ease of use and a comment area
for qualitative responses.)
One-hundred and fifty-six graduate and undergraduate
students attending two mid-size public universities
and enrolled in online courses participated in the
research. The instructors of these online courses
were full-time faculty trained to provide
asynchronous audio feedback by recording Mp3 audio
files and/or “embedded” audio feedback with Adobe
8.0 Professional. These Mp3 messages or Adobe PDF
documents containing audio feedback were posted for
the students in the online Blackboard classrooms.
Students received at least five collective (i.e.,
for the entire class) audio messages from their
instructor and at least two individual audio
feedback messages by the end of the semester. A
written summary was also provided with the
collective audio messages. All classes utilized
Blackboard as the online platform. At the end of the
course, students were invited to complete an online
survey, which asked them to reflect on the utility
and effectiveness of the feedback strategy.
9-item electronic survey was developed by the
researchers to collect the data. The survey was
based upon a previous study by Ice, Curtis,
Phillips, and Wells (2007). Survey items were
comprised of statements that would be answered in
Likert-style format, with a scale from 1-4, with 1
being “strongly disagree” to 4 being “strongly
agree.” One final open-ended question allowed
students to leave their qualitative comments.
Prior to the launch of the study, the survey was
sent to three experts who had vast experience
teaching online and conducting research related to
E-learning in order to establish face validity. The
survey was also piloted prior to data collection
with 12 undergraduate and graduate students for
wording and clarity. The survey was hosted by an
online survey service and an online link to the
survey was posted in the Blackboard courseroom at
the end of the semester. Students were invited to
complete the survey along with their end -of -course
evaluations. Students were not required to include
any identifying information on the survey nor were
email addresses connected to the responses.
Seventy-five percent of the total sample of 210
chose to complete the electronic survey (n =156).
Seventy-six (49%) were undergraduate students and 80
(51%) were graduate students. The mean number of
online courses taken for students participating in
the study was 2.5, and the mode was 4.
Frequencies for each survey question item are listed
in Table 1. Overall, students and instructors
reported they were satisfied with AAC as a teaching
and learning tool for feedback delivery (= 3.05).
depicted in Table 1, over 88.5% of the students (n =
138) believed the instructor’s audio feedback to be
helpful and 88.1% (n = 133) found it easy to use.
Students were split in terms of whether they
preferred the audio to the written feedback, with
52.6% indicating that they disagreed or strongly
disagreed with using only audio and 47.4% indicating
that they preferred the audio to the written. Over
half of the students (59%; n = 92) found AAC to be
timesaving, 71.8% (112) found that the audio
feedback helped them understand the content better,
and 80.2% (125) felt that the audio feedback kept
them engaged in the course content. The use of AAC
was also perceived to improve the relationship
between instructor-student: Over 82.4% (129) of the
students agreed that the audio communication helped
enhance the instructor-student relationship. The
majority (84.6%; n = 132) of the students preferred
for the instructor to use a blending of audio and
Independent Sample T-tests revealed that there were
no significant differences in the mean survey scores
between undergraduate and graduate students,
indicating that both groups appeared to favor
asynchronous audio instructor feedback equally (t
-.150; t 1.74; t 1.45; t .062; t .584; t. -1.06; t;
-.819; t; -1.06; t -1.88; p >.05).
Table 1. Frequencies, Percentages and Means of
Survey Response Items (n = 156)
Q1. I find the audio communication that the
instructor leaves in the courseroom helpful.
Q2. If given the choice, I prefer to receive
audio communication rather than written
communication from the instructor
Q3. I believe that audio communication in the
courseroom saves me time
Q4. I feel that the audio communication helps me
understand the content better than without
having it in the courseroom.
Q5. I believe that the instructor's use of audio
communication can help create a better
instructor-student relationship in the
Q6. I believe that the audio communication
created by the instructor led me to be more
engaged in the course content.
Q7. I would prefer for the instructor to use a
blending of audio and text based communication
in the courseroom
Q8. I think it’s easy to listen to the
instructor’s audio feedback.
Question 9 on the survey asked the students to
“please share any additional comments on your
perceptions AAC as a teaching and learning tool.”
Interpretation of the open-ended item was based on a
five-step method for analyzing qualitative data by
Taylor-Powell and Renner (2003) which involves:1)
becoming familiar with the data; 2) finding a focus
for the analysis; 3) categorizing the material; 4)
finding patterns; and 5) bringing the data all
together. This type of analysis is based on themes
that emerge as the data becomes more familiar
(Taylor-Powell & Renner, 2003).
Ninety-one (58%) participants left qualitative
comments. Of these 91 responses (Table 2), 82 (91%)
reflected positive themes relating to the use of
audio feedback, while 9 (9%) indicated students
either did not like using asynchronous audio
messages or they simply preferred receiving only
text-based feedback. Two participants indicated that
they could not use the audio feedback because one
was hearing impaired (and only used the text-based
feedback), and the other one did not have a working
computer soundcard. Positive emerging themes were
that the audio feedback was easy to use, it felt
more personal, it “humanized” the instructor, it
appealed to their learning style, and it seemed
“promising.” Negative themes were that the strategy
did not appeal to their learning style, it took too
long to download the audio files, or students found
text-based feedback more helpful.
Table 2. Emergent Themes from Students’ Qualitative
Comments on AAC (Question #9)*
Easy to use (+)
“I liked that I could just download it and
listen to it on my Mp3 player or at work.”
Personalizes feedback (+)
“I felt the feedback was more personal and
‘tailor-made’ for the individual.”
“Even if the comments were constructive, the
audio softened it.”
Humanizes the instructor (+)
“I enjoyed hearing my professor’s voice and tone
attached to the comments.”
“The feedback in audio format just doesn’t sound
as critical as when you only read it.”
“Hearing the instructor’s voice really helped
give the online more of a traditional class
“At times I felt the instructor was right in
front of me.”
Appeals to auditory learners (+)
“This really appealed to my learning style. I do
so much better when something is auditory rather
than just visual.”
Has potential to improve online learning (+)
“I think this strategy has a lot of promise.”
“I’m a new online student, and I thought the
audio messages really helped me stay engaged.”
“I would like to see it used in other online
Improves the instructor-student relationship (+)
“I think it creates a ‘bridge’ from the
instructor to the student.”
Does not appeal to student’s learning style (-)
“I learn better by reading.”
Takes too much time to download (-)
“It takes too long for me to download large
“It’s not that convenient.”
Blended feedback is best
“The instructor should use a mix of audio and
“I think both are necessary.”
“Using both audio and written is good because we
have all kinds of learners in this class.”
*n = 91
This study used survey methodology to assess both
student and instructor satisfaction with AAC as well
as perceived impact on learning outcomes,
engagement, and instructor presence. Due to the
sample, the study was also able to address these
impacts at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
results of this study revealed that asynchronous
audio communication is an effective teaching tool
that enhances instructor presence, student
engagement, content knowledge, and overall course
satisfaction. The findings of this research support
the work of Ice, Curtis, Phillips & Wells (2007) who
found that not only was there an “overwhelming
student preference for asynchronous audio feedback
as compared to traditional text based feedback,”
(Section IV, ¶ 1), but the students applied the
feedback contained in the audio more effectively
than feedback received in text-based only instructor
commentary. However, unlike Ice, Curtis, Phillips,
and Wells (2007), students in this study indicated
they preferred to receive a blending of both audio
and text-based feedback rather than just audio by
itself. Reasons for this divergent finding may stem
from the composition of the sample: The sample in
this study included both graduate and undergraduate
students and students from multiple disciplines who
were enrolled in upper-division major coursework
(which can be writing intensive). Qualitative
comments revealed that students like referring back
to the written feedback, but used the audio to
augment and expand on the text-based commentary.
Also, including the text based feedback along with
the audio aligned with ADA (American Disabilities
was interesting to find that just over a slight
majority of the students 59% (n = 92) believed audio
feedback actually saved them time. Instructors felt
that it only slightly reduced the time it took to
provide commentary, most likely because both audio
and text were used rather than just one or the
other. Students also revealed that it took time to
download the audio file rather than just read
text-based feedback. Regardless, the majority of
students found AAC to be worth their time, with
88.5% (n = 138) moderately or strongly agreeing
that audio feedback was helpful. Even more
compelling was that 91% (n = 142) of the students
found AAC to improve their understanding of course
content and 82.4% (n = 106) believed it improved the
instructor-student relationship. Therefore, AAC was
shown to increase students’ feelings of instructor
presence, improve their perceived understanding of
course and help sustain their level of course
engagement. Those reasons alone should be compelling
enough for online instructors to give audio feedback
addition, the simplicity and portability of
audio-based feedback enhances its utility as a
teaching strategy. There is a very small learning
curve required to use of this type of technology.
Audio messages can be created and downloaded in
seconds from various file formats and generated by
way of computer, phone or Mp3 player. Students can
then listen to feedback in the car, walking across
campus, exercising, or flying across the country.
While Second Life, podcasting, and videoblogs are
all popular, “cutting edge” strategies for enhancing
one’s online learning experience, many student
populations today are still working with dial-up or
older, unsophisticated technology. This may deter
their exploration of Web 2.0 innovations and
increase their apprehension for online learning if
this technology is “forced” on them. For example, at
the university where this study was conducted, only
5% of the 5,108 students surveyed about their use of
technology reported an interest in podcasting and 3%
of the students did not even know what was meant by
the term “podcast.” The ease and simplicity of
downloading and listening to audio messages was a
key benefit mentioned in the qualitative comments
from students in this study on AAC.
Another key benefit for using asynchronous audio is
the “affective” impact it appears to have on
students’ cognition and engagement. Though
instructors can express themselves and their
emotions through text based communication, 88.5% (n
= 132) students in this study mentioned that they
like the way they were able to catch the nuances
provided in the instructor’s audio messages. As also
noted by Ice, Curtis, Phillips, and Wells (2007),
this finding is important because it extends upon
previous research relating to online social presence
(Richardson & Swan, 2002). Richardson & Swan (2002)
found that student satisfaction with an online
course significantly increased when he/she felt the
instructor was “there” and appeared to be attentive.
Furthermore, when one considers Social Presence
Theory (Short, Williams,and Christie, 1976), the
human voice can dissolve barriers to
computer-mediated instruction, and the online
instructor may then appear more “life like.”
Through the instructors’ inflection, humor, and
nuance, students may begin to feel more trusting,
and more willing to express and ponder ideas,
resulting in more critical thought and analysis
within the online classroom.
This study did not find any statistically
significant differences in responses according to
level of education. Undergraduate students and
graduate students were similar in their reaction to
AAC. However, a future investigation could examine
this more closely, intentionally sampling courses
that reflect “first-time online” enrollments and
thereby establishing whether overall experience may
be a factor. In addition, large enrollment lower
division courses were not sampled in the current
study, only upper division or graduate courses;
therefore, future studies could explore the use of
AAC in hybrid or large enrollment courses at the
undergraduate and graduate level.
The sampling frame for this study was
cross-disciplinary, with participants enrolled in
reading, health education, and family studies online
courses. With a final sample of 156 students,
reasonable conclusions could be drawn from the
survey data. This study confirms much of what is
considered conventional wisdom about the online
classroom: that students and instructors alike
continue to seek connection in their course work and
that Web 2.0 technologies support such connectivity.
The current study provides some insight into whether
must be "real time," either physically or virtually.
Indeed, the temporal consideration appears to be
less important than the "personalization" conveyed
by audio feedback from the instructor. The
preference for audio feedback paired with text
feedback offers strong support for use of AAC.
While the current study did not seek to identify
additional methods for using AAC, the researchers
did expand their own use of the technology as a
natural outgrowth of this study. Some of their uses
audio-based exams for vocabulary and
language-building courses such as medical
detailed individualized feedback on students’ course
papers and projects,
feedback on graduate students’ theses and
dissertations, both in specific parts of the
manuscript and in overall comments (for an entire
chapter, for example),
narration for training materials, especially as
audio clips embedded alongside screenshots of a
narration for assignment guides, including audio
clips embedded alongside screenshots of the
student’s Blackboard course interface,
narration in electronic portfolios,
narration of course syllabus.
researchers conclude that the field has adequate
evidence and rationale to support the use of AAC
broadly and routinely in online classrooms. As this
study and others have demonstrated, students and
instructors like the connection that AAC provides
them. As an additional mode for instructor feedback,
AAC serves multiple learning styles with a minimum
learning curve for instructors.
More quasi-experimental research is needed to
compare learning outcomes, student retention, and
student satisfaction when audio versus text based
feedback is used. While initial response from
students indicates preference for both, this choice
may be a response based more on familiarity (keeping
the familiar text feedback while adding AAC) than
true comparison between the two modes. Additionally,
as in all examinations of new technologies, a
novelty effect may be identified.
Online classroom experiences will continue to
integrate Web 2.0 technologies, making AAC only one
of many choices to enhance instructor-student
relationships and also to improve instructor
feedback. One side effect of such integration may be
the adoption of multiple strategies that allow the
student to focus on the feedback most helpful and
the best match with the individual learning style.
Thus, researchers may find it difficult to establish
any one superior method for online feedback.
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