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Blog Assignment #4: Article Review

Murphy, Elizabeth and Maria A. Rodriquez-Manzanares. “Rapport in Distance Education.” The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 13.1 (Jan 2012). 167-190. ERIC. Web. 4 Jun. 2014.

Murphy and Rodriquez-Manzanares’s study examines distance education teacher-student rapport. They focus on the indicators of rapport, the challenges to the distance educator in building rapport, and the reasons why rapport is important. For the purposes of this study, rapport is defined as “harmonious interactions between teachers and students,” and relationships with “mutual understanding and satisfactory communication” (168). This qualitative study included 42 distance education teachers, with data collected in individual interviews with participants, the transcripts of which were coded and unitized according to thematic similarities. To establish the importance of rapport as a classroom variable, the authors first provide an extensive literature review of texts arguing that rapport is linked to “enhanced learning, attention, motivation, attendance, and involvement for students” (168). They also provide a synthesis and classification of rapport manifestations from the literature into the following categories: honesty/respect, support/monitoring, individual recognition, sharing/mirroring, social interaction, accessibility, caring, and effective communication. One study result is that distance education lacks the benefit of face-to-face communication and thus has a heightened need for rapport’s effects on student learning and motivation. In addition, there exist specific challenges to building rapport at a distance, specifically geographic dispersion, asynchronicity, heavy teacher workloads restricting time to invest in rapport-building activities, software limitations, and teachers not recognizing positive rapport as a significant aspect of learning. Murphy and Rodriquez-Manzanares argue the most significant of the rapport categories apparent in the literature are individual recognition, accessibility, and social interaction; however, due to the nature of distance education, there are two additional necessary manifestations of rapport: having non-text-based interactions (such as video conferencing) and paying attention to the tone of interactions (generally positive and jovial). Following the findings, the authors provide charts of behaviors, specific to distance education, that can build rapport in each of the identified categories. The authors suggest these charts can be used prescriptively by distance education teachers interested in building rapport. Finally, they conclude that unlike the spontaneous rapport-building in the face-to-face classroom, rapport in the distance classroom must be premeditated, consciously promoted, and is only achieved with a significant investment of time and more work. I strongly recommend this article to both researchers in the field of distance education and those looking to enhance their online pedagogical practices. The authors’ work in classifying rapport are both theoretically and practically significant. Rapport tends to be a variable that borders of the mystical, as an intangible outcome of the classroom chemistry and thus irreproducible or transferrable. However, this work provides specific rapport categories and how to achieve each one. The authors note as well, that this provides a starting point for future research in developing and refining rapport categories while giving teachers applications to use at the same time. If rapport is as significant to student success as the literature suggests, then this article is an important initial steps in moving the variable toward the quantifiable, measureable, and implementable.