Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Five Best Ways to Build Relationships in the Workplace (Online Classroom)

Authors: Andree C. Swanson, EdD and Paula J. Zobisch, PhD
For the online faculty member, his or her workplace is behind a computer.  Often we feel isolated and alone.  Imagine what it must be like for our students who may need someone to connect to virtually (e-connectivity).  

It’s not enough for a course to be accessible online, it must also be designed in a way that keys into the digital pulse of current events, trending topics and insider knowledge endemic to the web. The three-quarters of 18 to 29 year-olds who have profiles on social networks are likely wondering why online course offerings aren’t nearly as enticing as the content that they find on their favorite social websites.” (Masoni)

As the current Allstate ad says… “we want more, we just want more”.  Students want a relationship with the instructor.  Students need reassurance there is a real instructor and person behind the text who is active and engaged. Two methods to provide more for your students are to build trust and to model behavior that you expect from the students.

Techniques to Build Trust

In the online classroom, faculty members need to build trust in an effort to create an effective learning environment.  Without trust, a student – teacher relationship does not exist.  Bowman (n.d.), a human resources expert, posits five techniques for gaining trust.  If these techniques apply in the work world, they could be applied in the online learning environment.
The first is to “establish and main integrity” (Bowman).  Creating integrity in the classroom is akin to three of Spears’ ten tenets of servant leadership, listening, empathy, and awareness (Spears, 2010, p. 27).

The second technique is to “communicate vision and values” (Bowman).  Communication is a very important aspect of creating a relationship.  Spears states that the servant leader must conceptualize and persuade their vision and values.  “The servant leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance” (Spears, p. 28).

The third technique is to “consider all employees as equal partners” and the forth technique is to “focus on shared, rather than personal goals” (Bowman).  Both of these techniques build community.  Here is an opportunity to express true servant leadership. Approach new and old employees (students) with respect and humility.  Spears offered the concept of creating community; however, within this is the element of communication and trust.  If one’s communication is not clear and honest, one cannot develop a community of coworkers or students.  Clear communication can be achieved by selecting words carefully when writing in the online environment.  “Servant leadership suggests that true community can be created among those who work in businesses and other institutions” (Spears, p. 29).  When there is a community, the element of trust appears.

The final technique is “do what’s right, regardless of personal risk” (Bowman).  This is back to the basic concept of servant leadership. “Servant leadership, like stewardship, assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of others. It also emphasizes the use of openness and persuasion, rather than control” (Spears, p. 29).

Modeling Behavior

Overall, the instructor is modeling the behavior he expects from students online.  The goal is to provide security and responsiveness between instructor and students.  Being comfortable online is the biggest prerequisite to successful classmate relationships.  Showing respect and interacting when needed is the best way for students to “feel” and develop friendships online.  A method to show respect is to address the students by "Mr" or "Ms", rather than the student's first name.

Bowman may not be in a peer-reviewed literature, but his techniques for building trust are solid and supported within the academic resources.  Servant leadership appears as a strong leadership model to follow when building relationships at work and in the online classroom.

Bowman, D. (n.d.). The five best ways to build and lose-trust in the workplace. Retrieved from

Latch, C. (2012). Tips to building relationships with your online classmates. Retrieved from

Masoni, M. (2010). Why online education needs to get social. Retrieved from

Spears, L. (2010). Character and Servant Leadership: Ten characteristics of effective, caring leaders. The Journal of Virtues & Leadership, 1 (1), 25-30. Regent University. School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship. 

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