Immediate and delayed effects of interest cues and engagement cues on students’ affective learning

Titsworth, B Scott

This experiment tested the effects of teacher immediacy, use of organizational lecture cues, and student notetaking on students affective learning both immediately and one week after viewing an experimentally manipulated lecture. Results of the experiment suggested that teacher immediacy had the greatest effect on student affect and that this effect was stable over time. Additionally, an interaction was detected where students viewing the lectures with high immediacy but without organizational cues had sharper declines in affect than students viewing the high immediacy/with cues lectures.

Key Words: teacher immediacy; organizational cues; notetaking; student affect.


Affect toward instruction is a state of psychological and emotional arousal toward the teacher, subject matter, instructional approach, and overall climate of a class (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956). Because affect is positively associated with students’ motivation and learning (Rodriguez, Plax, & Kearney, 1996), this construct has become a common thread underpinning large segments of instructional communication research. Sustained research programs have explored relationships between students’ affect and teachers’ use of immediacy (e.g., Gorham, 1988; Gorham & Christophel, 1990; Hackman & Walker, 1990; Sanders & Wiseman, 1990), teachers’ use of behavior alteration techniques (e.g. Plax, Kearney, McCroskey, & Richmond, 1986), and teachers’ use of humor (e.g. Gorham & Christophel, 1990).

The present study consisted of an experiment testing whether or not teacher immediacy, teacher clarity, and student notetaking are related to students’ immediate and delayed affect toward learning. The rationale for this study lies in the belief that communication interactions between teachers and students are critical elements contributing to motivating and de-motivating school climates. Although student motivation for lifelong learning is undoubtedly influenced by other factors such as familial support (Smith, Butler-Kisber, LaRocque, Portelli, Shields, Sturge Sparks, & Vibert, 1998) and school culture (Renchler, 1992), it is “primarily associated with deep and complex relationships and interrelationships among people” (Smith et al., 1998, p. 10). Moreover, one of the principal concerns for communication scholars is whether or not communication interactions between teachers and students influence motivation and affective learning. The present study contributes to this line of investigation in three ways. First, the link between various types of communication behaviors and student affect is explored. Second, the present study uses experimental rather than correlational methods to test effects. Finally, the present study adds new information concerning the delayed effects of one communication encounter on student affect.


Student affect is a state of psychological and emotional arousal toward learning. Students who have higher levels of affect generally demonstrate approach behaviors toward the source of arousal and consequently are more engaged. Alternatively, students with low levels of affect typically avoid engagement with the source of arousal (Mehrabian, 1971; 1981). Because affective arousal can result from multiple behaviors, there is some utility in considering theoretical dimensions of affect cues. Research in instructional communication and allied disciplines have identified two general types of affect cues: interest cues and engagement cues.

Interest cues are communication stimuli that not only increase students’ attention levels but also cause them to be curious and emotionally connected to learning situations (Harp & Mayer, 1997; Hidi, 1990). Harp and Mayer (1997) distinguish between two forms of interest cues: emotional interest cues and cognitive interest cues. Emotional interest cues are seductive details in a reading or lecture that excite and emotionally engage students. Although such details are often content material like examples or stories, they can also include relational details like teacher immediacy.

Teacher Immediacy behaviors generate perceptions of psychological closeness with students (Andersen & Andersen, 1982; Gorham, 1988). Teachers who are highly immediate tend to use consistent eye contact, movement, vocal variety, gestures, humor, and personalized examples during class whereas non-immediate teachers tend to read from notes, stand behind a podium, use monotone delivery, few gestures, little humor, and abstract examples (Andersen, Andersen, &Jensen, 1979).

The importance of teacher immediacy has been well documented by instructional communication researchers. Research suggests that immediacy stimulates psychological arousal on the part of students (see Bainbridge-Frymier, 1993a, 1993b, 1994; Christophel, 1990; Christophel & Gorham, 1995), and therefore, could serve as an emotional interest cue. In conditions of high immediacy, students should have more psychological arousal and consequently higher affect toward a class, subject matter, or instructor. In conditions of low immediacy, students should have less emotional arousal and consequently lower affect.

Cognitive interest cues increase affective arousal because they make information clearer for the listener or reader (Harp & Mayer, 1997). For example, explanatory summaries highlight important relationships presented in a lecture or text passage, explicit transitions help listeners or readers follow a train of thought, and visual materials help make abstract and un-engaging material concrete and stimulating. In this study, organizational lecture cues were selected as a representative type of cognitive interest cue.

Organizational lecture cues are verbal signals used by teachers during instruction which make the organization of material explicit for students (Titsworth & Kiewra, 1998). Organizational cues can include verbal advance organizers, explicit transition statements indicating the main and subordinate points of a lecture and summaries of lecture organization. Although the effects of organizational cues on students’ affect have not been explicitly explored, evidence suggests that these behaviors may raise students’ affect because they potentially generate cognitive interest in material (Harp & Mayer, 1997). For instance, researchers exploring teacher clarity have found that students react more positively to clear teachers (i.e., Clark, Gage, Marx, Peterson, Stayrook, & Winne, 1979; Feldman, 1989; Powell & Harville, 1990). Although organizational lecture cues are only one facet of teacher clarity, this evidence suggests that such cues could generate higher levels of affect for students because the lesson is clearer.

A second general type of affect cue identified in literature is engagement cues. Student engagement can happen on a large scale through participation in extracurricular activities (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1995) or being part of decision-making teams (Kearsley, 1998), and can also happen on a small scale when students are actively involved in classroom learning opportunities (Smith et al., 1998). Engagement takes students out of the passive-receiver role and makes them active creators of knowledge.

One way for students to be engaged in class is through notetaking. When students take notes they must actively select, organize, and integrate information from a lesson (Kiewra, 1984). Although literature on student notetaking has generally not considered its impact on affect, notetaking can help students maintain sustained attention toward material and can also help students stay engaged in the learning process (Kiewra, 1984). Consequently, one would expect that students who take notes over a lesson would be more engaged than students who do not take notes. Because engagement should be positively related to affect, it is reasonable to expect that students who take notes would have higher levels of affect than students who simply listen.

Using the rationale that interest and engagement cues result in higher levels of affect, a previous study found moderate to strong positive correlations between students’ perceptions of teacher clarity, teacher immediacy, notetaking effectiveness, and their self-reported affect toward learning (Titsworth, 2001). The first objective of this study is to determine whether or not these effects can be replicated using experimental methods.

HI: Students’ perceptions of affect toward instruction will be significantly higher when lectures contain immediacy behaviors, organizational cues or when students are required to take notes.

The second objective of this study is to assess the effects of immediacy, organizational cues, and notetaking on students’ affect over time. Because arousal, either positive or negative, is expected to peak immediately after receiving a stimulus cue, the most likely trend is that arousal will decrease as time progresses (Gilbert, 1988). Consequently, it is predicted that students’ affect will be greater when measured immediately after hearing a lecture and lower when measured one week later. Previous research has generally not considered the immediate vs. delayed effects of affect cues. Of importance to the current study is whether or not immediacy, organizational cues, and notetaking influences the decline in affect.

RQ1: Do teacher immediacy behaviors, use of organizational lecture cues, and notetaking influence changes in students’ affect toward instruction after a delay?



A total of 223 students enrolled in the basic communication course at a large Midwestern university agreed to participate in the study. There were more females (n = 126; 56.5%) than males (n = 69; 30.9%), and 28 participants (12.50%) did not indicate their sex. The average age of participants was 19.5 (SD = 1.89) and they had been in school for an average of 3.28 (SD = 2.09) semesters. As self reported, the average GPA for participants was 3.25 (SD = .50). A total of 52 distinct academic majors were reported by the participants.


Lecture Materials. Four versions of a lecture were scripted and videotaped to control for potential confounding variables; the four versions covered the same content material but were manipulated to simulate either high or low immediacy and to either contain or not contain organizational cues. The topic material for the lectures was four communication theories: Coordinated Management of Meaning theory, Dramatism theory, General Systems theory, and Media Bias theory.’ After selecting the lecture material, four scripts were created and the lectures were presented by a female instructor.

The lectures containing organizational cues highlighted the four theories with explicit transitional statements. For example, students hearing the cued lecture heard these phrases: “The second theory I will discuss is Dramatism.” and, “Now I will present a definition of Dramatism.” Students hearing the un-cued lecture heard the same information presented in this way: “Another theory is Dramatism which can be described as. . .” Students in the cued lecture also heard a verbal preview in the introduction of the lecture and a review in the conclusion whereas students in the un-cued lecture did not.

Representative immediacy behaviors were assessed in existing literature (e.g., Gorham, 1988; McCroskey, Sallinen, Fayer, Richmond, & Barraclough, 1996) to determine which could be manipulated in the videotaped lectures. In the two high immediacy lectures the presenter used “we” statements, established direct eye contact with the camera, used facial expressions, moved around the classroom, and varied her vocal emphases. In the two low immediacy lectures, the presenter used “I” statements, remained stationary behind a podium which held the script, and minimized gestures and vocal variety. Analyses of the four lectures indicated that the overall length, word count, and rate of delivery were functionally identical.


Perceived Teacher Immediacy Scale. Alpha reliability estimates, means, and standard deviations for all scales are reported in Table 1. Students’ perceptions of teacher nonverbal immediacy was measured using a 10 item scale adapted from McCroskey et al. (1996). This 10 item Likert scale asks participants to rate how often the teacher uses several immediacy behaviors including gestures, voice inflection, eye contact, smiling, body position, and movement. Four items from McCroskey’s original 14 item scale (items 1, 7, 9, and 13) were excluded because they described behaviors extraneous to the conditions created by the experiment.

Perceptions of Lecture Clarity. Assessment of perceived clarity was done using an 8 item semantic differential scale (using 5 points) developed for this study. Examples of adjectives used in this scale were: precise/imprecise, well organized/unorganized, and coherent/incoherent. Responses for all 8 items were totaled and values could range from 8 to 40 where higher numbers indicated perceptions of higher clarity.

Affective Learning. Affective learning has traditionally been measured using the Affective Learning Scale developed by Scott and Wheeless (1975) and later expanded by Anderson (1979). The Affective Learning Scale assesses student attitudes toward the instructor, taking additional courses with the same instructor, the course, and taking additional courses in the same subject area. The scale is a semantic differential scale similar to the clarity scale described previously. In the present study, the affective learning scale was adapted to include two dimensions: affect toward the instructor and likelihood of enrolling in courses where similar lessons are taught.


Phase one of the study occurred during regularly scheduled class times for the basic communication course. In that phase, all students were told that a research project was being conducted to test various teaching techniques for potential inclusion in teaching training programs. Students agreeing to participate in the study completed the informed consent form, a demographic questionnaire, and signed up for a meeting time for phase two. Because students had no knowledge of substantive differences between the meeting times, the sign-up procedure provided one level of randomization for the study.

During phase two, 8 separate groups with approximately 30 participants each viewed one of the lectures. The 8 groups corresponded to the conditions created by the 2 (high immediacy/low immediacy) x 2 (with organizational cues/without organizational cues) X 2 (took notes/did not take notes) experimental design. The exact condition for each meeting (e.g., the lecture with low immediacy and organizational cues where students took notes) was randomly assigned. After the videotape was completed, all students were given a 5 minute review period. Students in the notetaking condition were told to review their notes; students in the no notes condition were told to mentally review the lecture information. After the 5 minute review period, students were told to complete the immediacy, clarity, and affect scales.

The final phase of the study took place approximately one week after students completed phase 2. During students’ regularly scheduled class times, the same surveys used in the second phase were distributed. Because some students failed to attend class on the day they were to complete phase 3, 43 students did not complete this phase. This represents a mortality rate of 19% for the delayed assessment.


Manipulation Checks

Two separate ANOVA procedures were calculated to determine whether or not the manipulation of teacher immediacy and organizational cues was valid. The first ANOVA tested for mean differences in students’ perceptions of teacher immediacy between the various groups. A significant main effect for the immediacy factor did emerge, F = 413.09 (1, 215), p

Hypothesis 1

Means and standard deviations for all groups are reported in Table 2. A MANOVA was calculated to test the hypothesis with notetaking, teacher immediacy, and organizational cues entered as independent variables and students’ reported affect toward the instructor and enrolling in similar courses entered as dependent variables. Both the Box, Box M = 20.67, F = .95 (21, 130519), 16 > .05, and the Levine, Instructor Affect F = .61 (7, 215), p > .05, Enroll Affect F = 1.62 (7, 215), p >.05, tests of equality indicated that the homogeneity assumption was met. Results of the MANOVA showed significant main effects for the immediacy factor, F = 76.43 (2, 214), p

Because the Titsworth (2001) study found positive correlations between perceived immediacy, perceived clarity and student affect, a supplemental analysis was performed to determine if similar correlations could be observed in this data set. This analysis resulted in positive correlations between students’ perceptions of immediacy and their affect toward the instructor (r = .31, p

Research Question 1


IThe lecture was designed to illustrate how theory can be used to better understand elements of communication in different contexts. Thus, depth of explanation for each theory was less important than illustrating the principle that theories help us understand the complexity of communication across diverse contexts.


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B. Scott Titsworth (Ph.D. University of Nebraska Lincoln, 1999) is an assistant professor in the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts, Minnesota State University Moorhead. This paper was presented at the Central States Communication Association for the 2000 convention, Detroit, MI and is based on the author’s dissertation directed by Dr. Bill Seiler, University of Nebraska Lincoln.

Copyright Central States Speech Association Fall 2001

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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