Teacher immediacy is the term used to describe communication behaviors that reduce the perceived distance between teacher and students. By definition, immediacy behaviors convey teacher warmth, communicate positive relational affect, signal approach and availability for communication, and create increased physiological arousal in receivers. Introduced in research based on her dissertation, J. Andersen (1979) identified teacher immediacy as a nonverbal construct and sought ways to measure the impact of teacher immediacy on instructional outcomes. Now, with the accumulation of nearly three decades of research on teacher immediacy, the substantial influences of teacher immediacy in creating positive instructional outcomes are well understood (Witt et al. 2004).
The construct of teacher immediacy was theoretically grounded in interpersonal communication research on immediacy, interpersonal warmth, and intimacy. A parallel body of literature has developed detailed theoretical models that explain the processes of intimacy exchange and describe how the immediacy behaviors function in close relationships (P. Andersen et al. 2006). Theoretically, immediacy is encoded and decoded as a “gestalt,” meaning that perceptions arise from an overall impression of the degree of immediacy behaviors rather than from single cues. Nonverbal cues that contribute to the gestalt impression of immediacy include increased eye contact, smiling, positive head nods, closer distances, more direct body angles, greater vocal variation, more touch, more time spent together, and increased gestural animation. Verbal immediacy involves the use of inclusive first-person plural pronouns (e.g., we rather than you and I), of informal forms of address, of names, of self-disclosure, and the confirmation of others’ statements (Andersen 1998).
Several approaches have been used to measure teacher immediacy. Most of the researchbased claims about nonverbal teacher immediacy have employed summative Likert-type instruments that ask participants or observers to rate their perceptions of a group of nonverbal immediacy behaviors (Andersen & Andersen, 2005). A few studies have employed coding of actual teacher behaviors, often in combination with perceptual measures, and some have used holistic or “molar” generalized immediacy measures. Verbal teacher immediacy (Gorham, 1988) has employed similar summative self-report methodologies. Although the validity of verbal immediacy measurement has been questioned (Robinson & Richmond, 1995), research continues to explore verbal immediacy. Finally, some researchers have utilized a combined measure of nonverbal and verbal immediacy.
Historically, more research has been done on nonverbal immediacy than on either verbal immediacy or the combination of verbal and nonverbal immediacy (McCroskey et al. 2006). This emphasis on nonverbal communication in immediacy studies is consistent with research on nonverbal communication generally that suggests that nonverbal behavior is the primary vehicle for the communication of affect. The primary finding from this large body of research is that teacher immediacy has a major positive effect on classroom affect, or liking. The evidence is extensive and consistent that immediate teachers produce increases in affective-based student learning outcomes. Students evaluate the class, the teacher, and the subject matter more positively when teachers display more rather than less immediacy. Immediate teachers are more motivating to students and students are more likely to develop positive attitudes toward the class, attend class more, and approach rather than avoid the subject (Witt et al. 2004).
More immediate teachers also produce positive consequences for cognitive learning, but the effect is smaller than that for affective outcomes and less consistent. When student perceptions of cognitive learning are employed as the dependent variable, studies demonstrate moderately large increases in perceived cognitive learning. Smaller and less consistent impacts of immediacy on cognitive learning have been observed in other studies that employ more direct, objective measures of cognitive learning. These small effects may nevertheless be important. Immediacy can motivate cognitive learning in some settings and not others due to the variability of complex, naturally occurring instructional settings. Furthermore, the real impact on cognitive learning may be delayed because student affect increases motivation, which mediates long-term learning. Finally, some of the impact of teacher immediacy on cognitive learning may be attenuated by other more influential factors that predict test and grade outcomes, such as effort, intelligence, and background.
For the studies in the US, the relationship between teacher immediacy and teacher effectiveness is at some point a curvilinear one, with extreme immediate behavior perceived as inappropriate, resulting in negative outcomes even on perceptions of affect. Furthermore, Titsworth (2004) found that naturally occurring low immediacy was actually better than high immediacy in predicting the extent of note taking and note organization in a lecture environment, suggesting a possible distraction effect of immediacy. The power of teacher immediacy has been abundantly demonstrated in American instructional settings. The few findings from global settings suggest that immediacy generally functions similarly across the world, though the effects may be smaller.
- Andersen, J. F. (1979). Teacher immediacy as a predictor of teaching effectiveness. In D. Nimmo (ed.), Communication yearbook, 3. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, pp. 543–559.
- Andersen, P. A. (1998). The cognitive valence theory of intimate communication. In M. T. Palmer & G. A. Barnett (eds.), Progress in communication sciences, vol. 14: Mutual influence in interpersonal communication: Theory and research in cognition, affect, and behavior. Stamford, CT: Ablex, pp. 39–72.
- Andersen, P. A., & Andersen, J. F. (2005). The measurement of nonverbal immediacy. In V. Manusov (ed.), The sourcebook of nonverbal measures: Going beyond words. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 113–126.
- Andersen, P. A., Guerrero, L. K., & Jones, S. M. (2006). Nonverbal intimacy. In V. Manusov & M. L. Patterson (eds.), The Sage handbook of nonverbal communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 259–277.
- Gorham, J. (1988). The relationship between verbal teacher immediacy behaviors and student learning. Communication Education, 37, 40–53.
- McCroskey, J. C., Richmond, V. P., & McCroskey, L. L. (2006). Nonverbal communication in instructional contexts. In V. Manusov & M. L. Patterson (eds.), The Sage handbook of nonverbal communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 421–436.
- Robinson, R. Y., & Richmond, V. P. (1995). Validity of the verbal immediacy scale. Communication Research Reports, 12, 80–84.
- Sanders, J. A., & Wiseman, R. L. (1990). The effects of verbal and nonverbal teacher immediacy on perceived cognitive, affective, and behavioral learning in the multicultural classroom. Communication Education, 39, 341–353.
- Titsworth, B. S. (2004). Students’ notetaking: The effects of teacher immediacy and clarity. Communication Education, 53, 305–320.
- Witt, P. L., Wheeless, L. R., & Allen, M. (2004). A meta-analytic review of the relationship between teacher immediacy and student learning. Communication Monographs, 71, 184–207.
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