An Experimental Study of Instructor Immediacy
in the Wimba Virtual Classroom
By: Lorah W. Bodie, Ed.D.
May 26, 2010
Generally, learning takes place in social environments.
Relations with others affect cognitive understanding and
knowledge construction (Richardson & Swan, 2003).
Due to the social nature of learning, it is important to
understand how people experience being present in web-
based settings, and how they form relationships and build
Presence and Social Presence
Presence: A sense of “being there” in a mediated environment
(Biocca, Kim, & Levy (1993).
Social Presence: The ability of participants to project their
personal characteristics into in a community of inquiry, so as to
be perceived as real people to their peers (Garrison, Anderson,
& Archer, 2000).
Components of social presence include the amount of
information transmitted, words conveyed, verbal and non-
verbal immediacy cues, and the context of the communication.
Immediacy - Behaviors that serve to enhance interaction and
closeness with another (Mehrabian, 1969). He grounded the
immediacy concept in approach-avoidance theory.
Immediacy is created in part by:
Nonverbal cues – include smiling, a relaxed body posture,
gestures, making eye contact, smiling at students...
Verbal cues – include utilizing humor, calling students by their
first name, praising students’ work, use of inclusive pronouns…
Dr. Kelly Rocca (St. John’s University) on Immediacy in the Classroom –
Media Richness – Daft and Lengel (1984)
Communications media have varying capacities for
resolving ambiguity, negotiating interpretation, and
Basic Assumption - Performance improves when
communicators use “richer” media for equivocal
Media Richness (cont’d)
Degree of “richness” is based on the capacity of the medium to:
Facilitate instant feedback,
Transmit multiple verbal and nonverbal (immediacy) cues,
Allow for the use of natural language, and
Convey a personal focus.
Hierarchy - richest to leanest (Newberry, 2001)
Gaps in the Research Base
1. Few studies have been done in web-based educational
settings to assess immediacy and learning outcomes.
2. Few studies have utilized experimental or quasi-
experimental research designs to guide the research
3. Few studies have assessed cognitive learning gains.
4. Retention of learning gains (over even short periods of
time) has received very little attention.
The study replicated design elements utilized by Witt (2000) and Schutt
(2007), the key element being the use of pre-recorded teaching segments
where instructor immediacy was manipulated to create higher and lower
In addition, two different sets of communications media were used; a rich
media combination, and a leaner media set.
The concept of immediacy was operationalized as having two dimensions:
Instructor behaviors and communication media, with the primary
dimension (verbal and nonverbal immediacy behaviors) carrying greater
weight than the secondary dimension (the medium by which the instructor
Treatment Group 1 - Higher-immediacy, w/video & text-chat (Hi-Vid)
Treatment Group 2 - Higher-immediacy, w/still photo & text-chat (Hi-Stil)
Treatment Group 3 - Lower-immediacy, w/video & text-chat (Lo-Vid)
Treatment Group 4 - Lower-immediacy, w/still photo & text-chat (Lo-Stil)
This experimental study explored the following:
RQ1: How do students perceive immediacy?
RQ2: How does immediacy influence cognitive learning?
RQ3: How does immediacy influence perceived learning?
RQ4: How does immediacy influence satisfaction with
The overall hypothesis was that higher-immediacy
instructor behaviors with full video of the instructor
would result in higher perceptions of immediacy and
greater levels of cognitive learning, perceived learning,
and satisfaction with teaching.
Topic: Cognitive Dissonance Theory – Main tenants can be covered in a 15-
minute session, examples easily relate to real life situations, introductory for
the discipline, approved by course instructor.
Guest Instructor: Carla Mathison, Ph.D. – Professor/Co-Director of Teacher
Education here at SDSU. She is also the faculty liaison for the School In The
Park program, and designer of Armaiti Island (an electronic simulation
designed for professional educators).
Treatments: Simulated synchronous teaching sessions with an instructor and
six mock students conducted in the Wimba Virtual Classroom, with the goal of
maximizing treatment differences while remaining believable.
Group 1 (Higher Immediacy with full video)
Group 2 (Higher Immediacy with still photo)
Group 3 (Lower Immediacy with full video)
Group 4 (Lower Immediacy with still photo)
Participants were recruited from two 500-seat sections of an
undergraduate psychology course that met twice weekly (T-TH),
in the fall of 2008.
One section was delivered in a traditional F2F manner in a high-
end technology-infused classroom (AL-201); the other was
blended—where one weekly class was delivered F2F and the
other was a synchronous session delivered in a Wimba Virtual
Classroom. Both sections were taught by the same instructor.
A total of 35 sessions were run over the 3-week period (Oct.17-
Nov.7, 2008), resulting in 599 participants; 23 records were
unusable resulting in 576 usable records for analysis.
1. Students signed up for small group sessions through a
web-based research participation system (Sona Systems
2. The sessions were held in a computer lab (LS-27)
equipped with new iMac computers where participants sat
at individual workstations with headsets.
3. Upon arrival, participants drew a randomizer chip from a
canister, selected a workstation, and reviewed and signed
the Informed Consent Document.
4. Then they followed the link for their respective treatment
group, and entered a password from the back of the
RQ1: How do students perceive immediacy?
Mean Scores for Perceived Immediacy
Verbal Non-Verbal Combined
Group 1 (Hi/Vid) (n=145) 53.36 43.13 96.49
Group 2 (Hi/Stil) (n=154) 51.13 25.90 76.86
Group 3 (Lo/Vid) (n=135) 35.08 17.78 52.73
Group 4 (Lo/Stil) (n=142) 37.62 18.18 55.80
Only pair not sig. dif. 1 & 2 3 & 4 3 & 4
(p=.06) (p=.96) (p=.19)
RQ2: How does immediacy influence cognitive
Repeated Measures ANOVA for Pre/Post/Delayed tests
by Treatment Group
Gain Loss Gain
T-Group Pretest Posttest Delayed Pre/Pst Pst/Del Pre/Del
Group 1 (n=110) 1.83* 4.65* 3.26 2.82 1.39 1.43
Group 2 (n=124) 2.24* 4.39 3.24 2.15 1.15 1.00
Group 3 (n=112) 2.04 4.33 3.13 2.29 1.20 1.09
Group 4 (n=114) 2.00 4.18* 3.21 2.18 .97 1.21
* Means were significantly different
Summary and Implications
All groups improved pre to post for cognitive learning
Group 1 (Hi-Vid) was lowest at pretest & highest at posttest
All groups declined post to delayed, but still sig. pre to delayed
Higher-immediacy groups (1 & 2) rated higher on all measures
than lower-immediacy groups (3 & 4)
Group 1 (Hi-Vid) rated consistently the highest on all measures
Lower-immediacy groups (3 and 4) very close on all measures &
in some cases Group 4 (Lo-Stil) had higher scores than Group 3
With higher-immediacy, delivery method did seem to make a
difference, but with lower-immediacy this didn’t seem to be the
Suggestions for Future Research
Address limitations of the current study -
Longer sessions, multiple sessions, real-time
participation, & topics across disciplines
Add a F2F condition
Evaluate other communication media
Conduct a factor analysis for immediacy items
Study gender differences