Enhancing non-verbal communication in online classes: a conceptual framework

February, 2022

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 48:1, 135-137

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

During the pandemic, the shift from traditional classes to online classes has posed a challenge to the instructors in many ways, one of which is how to use non-verbal cues in teaching.
The online class is essentially ‘one man show’ (Teng and Wu 2021) in the absence of dyadic communication.
Lack of perceivable emotional cues in online classes makes observing the students’ responses difficult for teachers (Trad, Katt, and Miller 2014).
Those cues that were spontaneous earlier are now needed to be sent consciously.
The teacher is almost oblivious to the students’ feedback, which was received immediately in the traditional classroom settings.
The teachers must be trained to use non-verbal cues to bridge the psychological and physical gap.
This paper attempts to develop a training practice using a conceptual framework for teachers to utilise features available in the online classes platforms to represent non-verbal cues.

After referring to the books on non-verbal communication (Knapp, Hall, and Horgan 2013; Morris 1977), the authors selected nine non-verbal cues (posture, gestures, oculesics, proxemics, facial expression, chronemics, paralanguage, artefacts, and haptics) that can be utilised in teaching practice. The authors then consulted an expert who has been using online classes platforms effectively.
This helped in identifying various features through which non-verbal cues can be extracted in online classes.
The eight non-verbal cues selected for the training included including posture (how one carries herself), gesture (hand movements for enumeration, confirmation, and regulation), oculesics (eye contact to create a connection between both the parties), proxemics (distance between student and teacher), facial expressions (variation in the expression communicates volume), chronemics can be retained by variation in the voice (timely presence of individual sets the mood), paralanguage (interest of the listeners can be retained by variations in the voice), and artefacts (background objects and accessories create an impression on the students).
During the consultation, the authors prepared a conceptual framework illustrating the features of online class platform for each of the eight non-verbal cues.
For each non-verbal cue, the teacher can implement any of the available options.
The training was provided to five English Communication Skills teachers for ten days to ensure they understand the selected features in the online platforms such as Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom.
After the training, each participant was provided hands-on experience and asked to give a 10 minute-presentation for the evaluation by the authors.
Any clarification, if needed, on the use of features was provided after the presentation.

The learning journey
After applying the learnings from training to online classes for four weeks, the participants shared feedback with the authors through a semi-structured interview.
The following comments were provided by the participants:
Participant 1: ‘Before the training, my experience of online classes was terrible as I had no clue how students are reacting.
I was pausing my lecture, invariably asking them if they were able to hear me.
I would finish the class with zero satisfaction.
Now I am sure the students can react to my teaching and understand it too.’
Participant 2: ‘Managing 100 students together in a class was a tedious task and made my connection with students weaker.
In addition, the breakout rooms made the students comfortable working in small groups, and I could sense their learnings.’
Participant 3: ‘After I learned how to use emoticons and hand raise, I received the feedback constantly rather than at the end.
By this, I remain updated with the students learning.’
Participant 4: ‘I hated online teaching because I could not see the smile of my students, which used to give me the energy and motivation to teach. However, I did not realize that there exists parallel representation of emotions on online media to remain well connected with the students.’
These comments illustrate the importance of non-verbal cues in classroom teaching.
Even though teachers were aware of the importance of non-verbal cues, they lacked relevant training in the utility of facilities available in the online learning platforms.
After the training, represented by a conceptual framework, participants could effectively utilise the features available in the online platforms to perceive students’ nonverbal cues.
Hence, by using this conceptual framework, the teachers can be trained to interpret the non-verbal cues in a better way during online classes.

Knapp, Mark L., Judith A. Hall, and Terrence G. Horgan. 2013. Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction. Germany: Cengage Learning.
Morris, Desmond. 1977. Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behaviour. By Desmond Morris (p. 320). London: Jonathan Cape .
Teng, M F., and J G. Wu. 2021. “Tea or Tears: Online Teaching during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Journal of Education for Teaching 47 (2): 290–292.
Trad, Laura, James Katt, and Ann Neville Miller. 2014. “The Effect of Face Threat Mitigation on Instructor Credibility and Student Motivation in the Absence of Instructor Nonverbal Immediacy.” Communication Education 63 (2): 136–148.
Witt, Paul L., and Lawrence R. Wheeless. 2001. “An Experimental Study of Teachers’ Verbal and Nonverbal Immediacy and Students’ Affective and Cognitive Learning.” Communication Education 50 (4): 327–342. 

Updated: Aug. 11, 2022