How tone, interactions and course content influence learning
We know that there are mainly four basic areas of course climate – stereotypes, tone, faculty-student interaction and student-student interaction, and content. In the previous part, we discussed stereotypes. Today, we are going to talk about the other three areas.
Course climate is not just about stereotypes associated with race, gender or minority. It is also about how teachers communicate with their students, how they perceive and the range of inclusion and comfort they experience.
American political scientists John T. Ishiyama and Stephen Hartlaub conducted a study in 2002 to understand how tone affects the course climate. They created two versions of the same syllabus with identical policies. They worded one in an encouraging tone and the other in a punitive tone. During the research, they found that the tone influenced students’ judgements about teachers’ approachability. To put it in simple words, students are less likely to seek help from the teacher who worded the syllabus in a punitive tone than the teacher who worded the same syllabus in an encouraging tone.
Even though the above study was focused on the syllabus, the impact of tone is more persuasive. Other facets of tone include the kind of language used inside the classroom and the way negative feedback is given. For example, we can provide negative feedback in the form of constructive criticism that focusses on the task as well as in a way that demeans the person. While the first approach aids students in their studies, the latter will destroy their self-confidence.
Teacher-student interaction and student-student interaction
Just like tone, teacher-student interaction impacts learning and performance. Students’ perception of whether teachers are interested in students’ academic problems, care about the concern of minority groups, are approachable and treat students as persons influence the course climate. Studies have found that these factors positively impact retention and the percentage of students who go on to graduate schools. Teacher-student interaction influences learning through motivational and socio-emotional mediating mechanisms, influencing participation, risk-taking and persistence.
Apart from teacher-student interaction, students also contribute to the classroom climate with their interactions. However, the way teachers respond to those interactions will be the final determinant of the climate.
We have already covered three basic areas of course climate. All the areas we discussed this far are process variables. Stereotyping, tone and interactions are processes happening inside classrooms. Content can affect learning through cognitive, motivational and socio-emotional mechanisms. It determines what is learned and how meaningful the material and field are to the students.
For example, if only a dominant perspective is presented in the course curriculum, it can affect classroom climate. Multiple perspectives should be placed in the centre to make the course more inclusive. The examples and metaphors teachers use to present the content also fall under this category because they convey subtle messages about who belongs in it. During this phase of their life, students will develop a sense of identity, purpose and competence. Some of these messages can translate into messages about their power, identity and persistence in the field.
Course climate works in both subtle and blatant ways, and many well-intentioned or inconsequential decisions can have unintended negative effects with regard to climate. We can discuss strategies that promote student development and a productive climate in the coming parts.