Communication Research ReportsVol. 22, No. 3, August 2005, pp. 217 Á/226 Perceived Instructor Credibility andTeaching PhilosophyMaria Brann, Chad Edwards, & Scott A. Myers The purpose of this study was to examine whether perceived instructor credibility(i.e., competence, character, caring) differs based on instructor teaching philosophy.
Participants were 244 students who read a short vignette describing an instructor witheither a transmissive or a progressive teaching philosophy and completed the Measure ofSource Credibility in reference to the vignette. Results indicate instructors with atransmissive teaching philosophy or a progressive teaching philosophy did not differ intheir perceived competence, but instructors with a progressive teaching philosophy wererated higher in both perceived character and caring than instructors with a transmissiveteaching philosophy. Future research should examine whether student philosophiestoward education impact perceived instructor credibility.
Keywords: Credibility; Transmissive; Progressive; Teaching philosophy One of the most important attributes needed by college instructors is credibility.
Instructor credibility, which is defined as ‘‘the attitude of a receiver which referencesthe degree to which a source is seen to be believable’’ (McCroskey, 1998, p. 80),consists of three dimensions: competence, character, and caring (Teven & McCroskey,1997). Competence centers on an instructor’s perceived knowledge or expertise in asubject matter (McCroskey, 1998), character refers to the ‘‘goodness’’ (i.e., honesty,trustworthiness) of an instructor (Frymier & Thompson, 1992), and caring focuseson whether an instructor expresses concern about students’ welfare (McCroskey,1998).
To date, researchers have concluded that a link exists between perceived instructor credibility and a host of instructional communicative behaviors. Instructors who Maria Brann (PhD, University of Kentucky, 2003), Department of Communication Studies, West Virginia University; Chad Edwards (PhD, University of Kansas, 2003), Department of Communication, WesternMichigan University; Scott A. Myers (PhD, Kent State University, 1995), Department of CommunicationStudies, West Virginia University. Correspondence to: Maria Brann, Department of Communication Studies,P.O. Box 6293, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506-6293, USA (Tel: '/1-304-293-3905; Fax: '/1-304-293-8667; Email: [email protected]).
ISSN 0882-4096 (print)/ISSN 1746-4099 (online) – 2005 National Communication AssociationDOI: 10.1080/00036810500230628 demonstrate competence, character, and/or caring are perceived to engage in a varietyof effective instructional communicative behaviors such as argumentativeness(Schrodt, 2003), immediacy (Hendrix, 1997; Johnson & Miller, 2002), affinityseeking (Frymier & Thompson, 1992), and assertiveness and responsiveness (Martin,Chesebro, & Mottet, 1997). Moreover, when instructors are perceived as credible,their students report gains in state motivation, affective learning, and cognitivelearning (Frymier & Thompson, 1992; Johnson & Miller, 2002; Russ, Simonds, &Hunt, 2002; Teven & McCroskey, 1997), recommend their instructors to their friends(Nadler & Nadler, 2001), evaluate their instructors more positively (Teven &McCroskey, 1997), feel understood by their instructors (Schrodt, 2003), andcommunicate with their instructors, both in and out of the classroom (Myers,2004). At the same time, perceived instructor credibility is influenced by a host ofvariables that are not related to their communicative behaviors. These variablesinclude how the instructor dresses (Morris, Gorham, Cohen, & Huffman, 1996),the instructional format of the course (Todd, Tillson, Cox, & Malinauskas, 2000), theaesthetic appeal of the instructor’s office (Teven & Comadena, 1996), and theinstructor’s sex, race, and ethnicity (Hendrix, 1998; Patton, 1999).
One variable that has yet to be explored is the impact of an instructor’s teaching philosophy on perceived credibility. For the purpose of this study, a teachingphilosophy is conceptualized as instructors’ beliefs about the underlying nature andpurpose of education that relate to their selection and use of specific teachingbehaviors and modalities. Although the relationship between teaching philosophyand teaching modality (e.g., lecture, small group discussion, reflection) is not one ofperfect convergence, broad tendencies exist regarding the historic coupling of aninstructor’s teaching philosophy with seemingly ‘‘compatible’’ instructional methods(e.g., Gutek, 1997; Walker & Soltis, 1997). In other words, instructional methods areassociated with, though not wholly determined by, the teaching philosophies of theinstructors who employ them. As such, it is likely instructors’ philosophies ofteaching figure prominently in how credible students perceive instructors to be. Thepurpose of this study, then, is to determine whether instructors’ teachingphilosophies affect student perceptions of their instructor credibility.
Current research on instructor credibility has focused on linking various communo-behavioral precedents to perceptions of source credibility. However, little attentionhas been devoted to the precursors of these behavioral differences and to the impactof teaching philosophies on communicative aspects of the classroom. Instructors’teaching philosophies directly influence teaching behaviors and have a direct impacton teaching methods (Gutek, 1997; Walker & Soltis, 1997). While an infinite numberof teaching philosophies exist (Briggs & Pinola, 1985), this study will utilize twogenerally accepted categories of teaching philosophies: transmissive and progressiveapproaches to education (Ozmon & Craver, 2003). It should be noted that such a categorization may lend a rigidity that is undeserved, as teaching philosophies can befluid and overlap rather than simply being viewed as dichotomous and mutuallyexclusive. For the sake of heuristic simplicity, in this study the transmissive andprogressive philosophies are presented as generally opposing tendencies, defined andidentified primarily by their differences from one another. Therefore, this studyexamines the influence of instructors’ teaching philosophies (i.e., transmissive andprogressive) on student perceptions of instructor credibility in the classroom [1].
A number of educational philosophies adhere to a traditional model of education,stressing the transmission of information or knowledge from instructor to student.
Wild (1955), for example, argued that the primary purpose of education in a societyis to allow for the transmission of acquired information from one generation, group,or individual to the next. At a general level, viewpoints such as Wild’s are labeled‘‘transmissive.’’ Transmissive models of education posit that instructors are theprincipal source of the knowledge, expertise, and authority in an educationalencounter (Howard, McGee, Schwartz, & Purcel, 2000). The purpose of instruction inthis model is the transference of facts and ideas from teacher to student. Witcher,Sewall, Arnold, and Travers (2001) argued that the transmissive viewpoint generallysubscribes to the correspondence theory of truth, in which truth is the accuraterepresentation of an independent reality and is considered true only if it correspondsto available facts. The instructor’s responsibility is to transfer knowledge to studentsby acting as a conduit for the transmission of truth claims. As a result, the instructorroutinely acts as a medium between the material and the students’ thought processes(Edwards & Shepherd, 2004).
Instructors who adhere to the transmissive model often maintain that previous techniques of teaching have worked in the past and should continue to work in thefuture. As a result, transmissive instructors often praise the lecture format as the mosteffective means of transmitting knowledge to their students (Doll, 1996; Gutek,1997). Because of the transmissive model’s reliance on the correspondence theory ofreality, students are often evaluated heavily on the basis of responses to traditionalexams, and instructors are considered successful if they possess the required skills toeffectively transfer knowledge to students (Gutek, 1997).
A growing number of scholars have been giving attention to the progressivephilosophy. This philosophy positions students as active learners whose ownexperiences are extremely important for learning and for the entirety of theeducational process. Essentially, the progressive viewpoint rests on the notion thatthe classroom is a ‘‘learning environment that is a practical, simplified version ofsociety’’ (Jacobsen, 1999, p. 231), in that the purpose of any class, whether history or quantum mechanics, is to allow students to test ideas, apply concepts to livedexperiences, and/or reach their own conclusions. In contrast with the transmissiveviewpoint, in which instructors are transmitters of ‘‘pure’’ knowledge, the progressiveviewpoint theorizes instructors as learning consultants. As a result, students shouldobtain methods of examining and solving their own problems to better understandtheir own experiences (hooks, 1994; Preston & Symes, 1992). Thus, the instructor’smain role is to provide counsel and support to the students in this process.
While progressive instructors might sometimes use very similar teaching techniques as the transmissive instructor, they do not use them simply because ofan ‘‘if it was done in the past, it should be done in the future’’ mentality. Instead theprogressive instructor’s goal is to make the educational process meaningful to eachstudent by revising activities and practices to suit the needs of current students.
Frequently, these instructors encourage participation through open discussions tocreate knowledge instead of relying only on lecturing techniques (Gutek, 1997).
Education is not achieved through simple transference of knowledge from instructorsto students but instead uses a collaborative model to guide and motivate the students’learning processes by replicating real-life problems in the classroom (Gutek, 1997;Ozmon & Craver, 2003).
Given the distinctions between the transmissive and the progressive teachingphilosophies and the impact these philosophies have on student participation andperformance in the classroom (Gutek, 1997; Sprague, 2004; Walker & Soltis, 1997), itis necessary to determine if perceived instructor credibility differs based on theseteaching philosophies. Because an instructor who embodies a transmissive philoso-phy typically relies on a more traditional mode of teaching (e.g., lecturing, serving asan authority figure), it is likely students perceive the transmissive instructor to bemore competent than the progressive instructor. This is due to the fact that studentsexpect their instructors to have a strong command of the subject matter and theability to communicate it (Hayward, 2000), and they listen to lectures nearly 80% oftheir time in class (Armbruster, 2000). On the other hand, progressive instructors usea variety of pedagogical tools to foster student collaboration in the creation ofknowledge (Edwards & Shepherd, 2004; Palmer, 1998), which may lend itself tostudents’ perceptions of instructor competence because students may consider theuse of these tools as a way in which instructors are attempting to reach all students.
Because it is not clear whether students will perceive transmissive and progressiveinstructors to differ in their competence, the following research question is posed: RQ1: Do transmissive and progressive instructors differ in their perceived competence? Conversely, because an instructor who embodies a more progressive philosophy is motivated to create meaningful relationships with students (Carpenter & Tait, 2001; Clark, 1995; Garrison, 1997), it is likely students perceive the progressive instructor ashigher in character and caring than the transmissive instructor. Not only areprogressive instructors considered to be highly nonverbally immediate, but they alsoare rated as creating high affect with their students (Edwards, 2003). Additionally,instructors who convey character are considered to exhibit referent power (Teven &Herring, 2002), and instructors who convey caring are considered to reveal warmthand create a positive learning environment (Teven & Hanson, 2002). As such, theprogressive instructor should be perceived as possessing character and demonstratingcaring more so than the transmissive instructor, in part because perceived characterand caring implies instructors are willing to develop interpersonal relationships withtheir students (Myers, 2004), which is a core tenet of the progressive educationalphilosophy. Although it is possible the transmissive instructor has character and iscaring, the transmissive philosophy does not advocate that instructors who embracethis philosophy focus on exemplifying character and caring (Ozmon & Craver, 2003).
Therefore, the following hypotheses are posited: H1: Progressive instructors will be rated higher in perceived character thantransmissive instructors.
H2: Progressive instructors will be rated higher in perceived caring than transmissiveinstructors.
Participants were 244 students (117 male, 125 female, two did not indicate their sex)enrolled in two introductory communication courses at a large Mid-Atlanticuniversity. The ages of the participants ranged from 18 to 35 years (M 0/18.92,SD 0/2.40). One hundred and fifty-three (n 0/153) participants were first-yearstudents, 55 participants were sophomores, 22 participants were juniors, 10participants were seniors, and one participant was a post-undergraduate. Threeparticipants did not indicate their class standing.
Data were collected toward the end of the semester. Participants in one class weregiven a vignette describing a hypothetical instructor with a transmissive philosophy(n 0/109), and participants in another class were given a vignette describing aninstructor with a progressive (n 0/135) teaching philosophy [2]. A vignette is a briefdescription of a situation that includes important factors, often about judgment-making processes of individuals, to which participants respond (Alexander & Becker,1978). The vignettes were developed based on a review of relevant literature about thetransmissive and the progressive teaching philosophies. After categorizing themesillustrative of each type of philosophy, vignettes describing both types of philosophies were drafted. The vignettes described each philosophy’s purpose of education and theinstructor’s view of classroom environment, responsibilities, class focus, and teachingand evaluation strategies. Scholars in instructional communication who were knownto research teaching philosophies were asked to read the vignettes. They were giventhe scenarios and asked to identify the teaching philosophy and suggest strengths andweaknesses to the descriptions (Flaskerud, 1979). Slight modifications were madebased on the experts’ comments.
Once students read the vignette, they completed the Measure of Source Credibility scale (McCroskey & Teven, 1999). This scale is an 18-item instrument that asksrespondents to report their perceptions of an individual’s competence, character, andcaring. Six items measure each dimension. In this study, students were asked toreport their perceptions of the instructor’s competence, character, and caring.
Responses are solicited using a seven-point bipolar semantic differential scale.
Previous reliability coefficients ranging from 0.86 to 0.95 have been reported for thethree dimensions (Myers, 2001; Teven & McCroskey, 1997). In this study, a reliabilitycoefficient of 0.86 was obtained for competence (M0/34.79, SD 0/6.41), areliability coefficient of 0.87 was obtained for character (M0/32.57, SD 0/7.67),and a reliability coefficient of 0.90 was obtained for caring (M 0/32.22, SD 0/8.27).
The research question inquired whether transmissive instructors and progressiveinstructors would differ in their perceived competence. It was found that transmissiveinstructors (M 0/34.57, SD 0/5.83) and progressive instructors (M 0/34.96, SD 0/6.85) did not differ in their perceived competence, F (1,242) 0/0.23, p 0/0.63, h2 0/0.001.
The first hypothesis predicted progressive instructors would be rated higher in perceived character than transmissive instructors. This hypothesis was supported,F (1,242) 0/13.53, p B/0.001, h2 0/0.05. Progressive instructors (M 0/34.16, SD 0/6.75) were rated higher in perceived character than transmissive instructors (M 0/30.61, SD 0/8.29).
The second hypothesis predicted progressive instructors would be rated higher in perceived caring than transmissive instructors. This hypothesis was supported,F (1,242) 0/33.41, p B/0.001, h2 0/0.12. Progressive instructors (M 0/34.81, SD 0/6.23) were rated higher in perceived character than transmissive instructors (M 0/29.03, SD 0/9.33).
The purpose of this study was to determine whether perceived instructor credibility(i.e., competence, character, caring) differs based on instructor teaching philosophy.
In answering the research question, it was found that transmissive and progressiveinstructors did not differ in their perceived competence. First, it may be possible that college students are not too concerned about their instructor’s competence. Recallthat instructor competence centers on students’ evaluations of an instructor’sperceived expertise in a subject matter. Myers (2001) argued that because expertiseis generally associated with college instructors from the first day of the course, unlessinstructors blatantly display a lack of subject matter expertise from the beginning ofthe course, competence is an issue to which students may pay little attention. Andalthough the transmissive and the progressive teaching philosophies often usedifferent strategies for teaching the subject matter, an instructor can still beconsidered an expert on a subject matter regardless of how the content is taught.
Second, researchers have identified several teaching-related competence behaviors that affect student motivation. These behaviors include, among others, clear coursedesign, understandable objectives, and student opportunity to participate and receivefeedback (Gorham & Christophel, 1992; Gorham & Millette, 1997). Because thesebehaviors are more closely aligned with teaching-related competence than withexpert-related competence, it might prove fruitful to investigate how different typesof competence differ, if at all, between instructors with a transmissive teachingphilosophy and instructors with a progressive teaching philosophy.
The hypotheses, which predicted progressive instructors would be rated higher in perceived character and perceived caring than transmissive instructors, weresupported. This finding is consistent with the progressive philosophy and under-scores Frymier and Houser’s (2000) contention that the instructor, student relation-ship is relationally driven. Because instructors who embody a progressive philosophytend to believe instruction is a collaborative process that occurs between instructorsand students (Gutek, 1997), students may perceive these instructors as possessingcharacter and demonstrating caring simply as a result of this collaboration. In a sense,this collaboration may reflect a perceived partnership between instructors andstudents, in which student involvement is simultaneously valued and welcomed.
Rosenfeld and Jarrard (1985) found that when students like a course, they perceivethemselves as valued and important, and work toward establishing a ‘‘coworker’’relationship with the instructor. Additionally, when an instructor invites studentparticipation via discussion, conversation, and questions (Doll, 1996), students mayattribute these behaviors to the instructor’s interpersonal role as a warm, empathic,and responsive person rather than to the instructor’s functional role as a teacher.
Future research should examine whether student educational beliefs impact perceived instructor credibility. Because students with progressive educational beliefsrate communication with their instructors as more satisfying than students withtransmissive educational beliefs do (Edwards, 2003), it is possible students withtransmissive educational beliefs differ from students with progressive educationalbeliefs in their perceptions of instructor credibility. Moreover, it might prove fruitfulto examine whether students either exhibit a preference for or respond morefavorably to an instructor with a transmissive philosophy, a progressive philosophy,or a transgressive philosophy (hooks, 1994), which is a combination of thetransmissive and progressive philosophies.
Additionally, the size of the class, the subject matter, or distance/mediation issues could influence instructors’ choices regarding appropriate teaching modality, makingit possible, for example, that an instructor who adheres to a progressive philosophy ofteaching might choose to use a lecture format when faced with instructing a coursewith 400 students. Our vignettes did not distinguish what topic the instructor wasteaching or how many students were in the class, which is a potential limitation asstudents may have been thinking of different areas when completing the survey.
Another potential limitation to using vignettes is that students are responding to ahypothetical instructor. It may be more beneficial to assess instructors’ teachingphilosophies and then have students complete measures about an actual person. Itwould also be beneficial to study instructors’ perceptions of the philosophies andtheir impact on credibility. Future studies should more fully explore the possiblerelationships of other characteristics (e.g., subject matter, class size) and teachingphilosophy. While this idea is beyond the scope of this report, it should serve as alaunching pad for more in-depth studies.
The authors wish to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their help with formation of themodality and dichotomous arguments relating to teaching philosophies.
Copies of the vignettes are available from the first author.
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