Communication Problems between Students and Lecturers

Literature Review on Communication Problems between Students and Lecturers


Communication problem among students and lecturer has become a cause for considerable concern in the higher educational level during the last few years. There are many barriers to good communication in students and lecturer conversation, including students’ anxiety and fear, lecturers’ burden of work and fear of litigation.

The study of conversation structure between student and lecturer is important because good conversation can establish and maintain relationship, and to exchange information (Neu, 1988). Conversation analysts believe that conversation is a highly organized activity whose structure may best be understood by recourse to the notion of “rule”. ( McLaughlin 1984 as cited in Neu 1988).

2.1 Conversation.

Conversation, whether face-to-face or online, takes place in five steps: opening, feedforward, business, feedback, and closing (De Vito, 2011).

2.1.1 Opening

The first step in conversation is the opening, which usually involves some kind of greeting: “Hi”, “How are you?” “Hello, this is Joe” (De Vito, 2011). In face- to-face conversation, greetings can be verbal or nonverbal but usually both (Krivonos & Knapp, 1975) however, in email, the greeting is verbal with perhaps and emoticon or two thrown in as cited in De Vito (2011).

2.1.2 Feedforward

Feedforward is information you provide before sending tour primary messages (Richard 1951) as cited in de Vito (2011). It reveals something about the message to come and includes for example, the preface or table of contents of a book, the opening paragraph of the chapter, movie previews, magazine covers, and introduction to public speech. Feedforward can be both verbal (“Wait until you hear this one”) and nonverbal (a prolonged pause). Phatic communication or small talk is another type of feedforward.

2.1.3 Business

Business is the substance and focus of the conversation. It is a good term because it emphasizes that most conversations are directed at achieving some goal. Normally people converse to meet the general purpose of interpersonal communication: to learn, relate, influence, play or help.

2.1.4 Feedback

Feedback can be defined as the reverse of the second because it reflects back on the conversation. Normally, it is done in face-to-face conversation and in response to previous email. The other half of the feedback equation is the person receiving the feedback (Robbins & Hunsanker, 2006) as cited in De Vito (2011).

2.1.5 Closing

Closing is the opposite of opening, the good bye (Knapp, Hart, Friedrich, & Shulman, 1973; Knapp & Vangelisti, 2009). ‘OK’ and ‘all right’ is often used in pre-closing. Then, the closing usually made up with ‘bye bye’ and ‘goodbye.’ In Paltridge (2006), end of the conversation. Besides that, the closing also may be preceded by a number of pre-sequences, such as the making of an arrangement, referring back to something previously said in the conversation, the initiation of a new topic, good wishes, a restatement of a reason for calling (Platridge, 2006). The closing may be verbal or nonverbal just like the opening but usually the combination of both. Besides that, the closing signals the intention to end access and some degree of supportiveness, such as expressing one’s pleasure in the interaction. It may also summarize the interaction.

2.2 Principles of Conversation

According to De Vito (2011), there are three important principles that will provide further perspectives on conversation: (1) turn-taking, (2) dialogue, and (3) immediacy.

2.2.1 Turn-taking

The basic rule in English conversation is that one person speaks at a time, after which they may nominate another speaker, or another speaker may take up the turn without being nominated (Sacks et al 1974; Sacks 2004) as cited in Paltridge (2006). There are several ways in which one’s can signal the end of a turn. Completion of syntactic unit, the use of falling intonation, pausing, signal such as ‘mmm’ or ‘anyway’, body contact, body position, and movement and voice pitch to name a few. A speaker may also use overlap as a strategy for taking a turn, as well as to prevent someone else from taking the turn. Besides, turn taking varies according to particular situations. Turn taking may also depends on factors such as the topic of the conversation, whether the interaction is relatively co-operative, how well the speakers know each other, and the relationship between, and relative status of, the speakers (Burns & Joyce, 1997) as cited in Paltridge (2006).

2.2.2 Dialogue

The Oxford English Dictionary defines dialogue as “the conversation written for and spoken by actors on a stage” or “a conversation carried on between two or more persons”. It is a verbal exchange of ideas between people and as such fits the standard vision of how dialogue would function in the classroom (Davis 2007).

2.2.3 Immediacy

Immediacy is the creation of closeness, a sense of togetherness, of oneness, between speaker and listener (De Vito, 2011). Immediacy strategies are often used to make someone like us. In addition, there is considerable evidence to show that immediacy behaviours are effective in teaching and in health care (Richmond, Smith, Heisel, & Mc Croskey, 2001; Richmond, McCroskey, & Hickson, 2008) as cited in De Vito (2011). According to De Vito (2011), immediacy can be use with both verbal and non verbal messages:

Self disclose: reveal something significant about yourself.

Refer to the other person’s good qualities, say dependability, intelligence character: for example, “You’re always so reliable.”

Express your positive view of the other person and your relationship: for example, “I’m glad you’re my roommate; you know everyone.”

Talk about commonalities, things you and the other person have done together or share.

Demonstrate your responsiveness by giving feedback cues that indicate you want to listen more and you’re interested: for example, “And what else happened?”

Expressed psychological closeness and openness by, for example, maintaining physical closeness and arranging your bodies exclude third parties.

Maintain appropriate eye contact and limit looking around at others.

Smile and express your interest in the other person.

Focus on the other person’s remarks. Make the speaker know that you heard and understood what was said, and give the speaker appropriate verbal and nonverbal feedback.

2.3 Conversation outside the classroom.

Conversation outside the classroom settings vary in their degree of structuredness, but even so, conversations that seem at first sight to be ‘free’ and unstructured can often be shown to have a structure; what will differ is the kinds of speech-act labels needed to describe what is happening, and it is mainly in this area, the functions of the parts of individual moves, that discourse analysts have found it necessary to expand and modify the Sinclair-Coulthard model (Mccarthy, M., 1991).

(Jozef (J) is visiting a scholar from Hungary at an English department in a British university. He has established a fairly informal and relaxed relationship with Chris (C), a lecturer in the department. He pops into Chris’s room one morning.)

C: Hello Jozef.

J: Hello Chris…..could you do me a great favour?


J:I’m going to book four cinema tickets on the phone and they need a credit card number…..could you give me your credit card number…they only accept payment by credit card over the phone.


J: I telephoned there and they said they wouldn’t do any reservations

C: without a card.

J: Yes and I could pay you back in cash.

C: Yes…sure…no problem at all.

J: Yes.

C: Mm…I’ve got this one, which is an Access card.

J: And I just tell them your number.

C: You tell them my number…this one here.

J: And they tell me how much.

C: That’s right…that’s all…that’s my name there and that number.

J: Yes…and I can settle it.

C: Yes and bring it back when you’re done.

J: Yeah…I’ll just telephone then.

C: Right…okay.

J: Thanks Chris.

C: Cheers.

(Jozef leaves the room.)

(Author’s data 1988, as cited in McCarthy, 1991).

2.4 Conversation in large lecture class

Lecturing is oratory, something the lecturer must always remember, and no matter what philosophies may be generated or adopted to strengthen the educational process within a class; lecturers must first successfully communicate with their students (Dubrow & Wilkinson, 1984) as cited in Davis 2007. Lecturer tends to alter their mindset, whether consciously or not, when moving from a small group presentation to lecturing in front of a large group (Devlin 2006; Cooper & Robinson 2000) in Davis 2007. Certain modification would be necessary; remembering to speak loud and clear, making some gestures to name a few but others may be detrimental to the effectiveness of the lecture. Instead of redirecting one’s conceptual framework, lecturer can adopt a philosophy for teaching a large class that is no different than one for a small class (Cleveland, 2002) in Davis 2007. In Davis (2007), educators often adopt and attitude that predisposes them to treat their large classes in an impersonal fashion (Long & Coldren, 2006).

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