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ZOOM INTERACTIONS WITH GRADUATE STUDENTS

M. Myers

Queen's university (CANADA)
Directing graduate students via zoom has brought about new insights into interactions for learning. The meetings consisted mainly of consultations regarding the students’ research for their Master’s theses or Ph.D. dissertations. The problem is that our ways of interacting on-line change compared to using our face-to-face habits. The study conducted was qualitative (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Patton, 2017) so as to capture fine details for in-depth analyses. We report on the analysis of instructor’s notes of six case studies including two doctoral students and four at the master’s level. Among these students, three were Canadians and three were international students. These students had little or no exposure to in-person class time, as one of them did not at all, a second one only recently joined classes but as a teaching assistant, and the third one had completed her course work in person before COVID impositions. We analyzed strategies used to make dialogue more comprehensible, both through collaborative effort and in the use of individual utterances. The findings included differences based on the length of the supervision of a given student and hence familiarity with a student’s work, student’s personality as well as a number of other factors. Due to limited personal contact, gestures and eye movement being less obvious, at times, there were repairs required due to closeness to communication failure or rather guardedness in preventing miscommunication. Supervising international students required a lot more tact and cultural. For instance, time was needed to free these students from conventions of politeness attached to their cultures and to get used to Canadian academic culture. In contrast, when working with students from Canadian contexts their directness enabled more time on task during the allotted scheduled zoom meetings. However the enthusiasm, that could be somewhat qualified as exuberance, displayed by the latter group required some gentle moderating and refocusing of efforts on more tangible aspects, narrowing down their thinking and having them concentrate more on achievable outcomes. It appeared that subtleties that would have faded with cross-over dialogue in a face-to-face context, were more easily identified and picked upon as if on-line interactions took on a more linear characteristic. Full attention was drawn to each person’s utterance and hence reactions were sometimes less direct, showing however that more was taken in. In addition, there was a need to create a positive climate by developing a unique social context suited to each participant. Comprehensibility was also augmented by providing examples and definitions. Ideas were discussed, even personal professional examples given, however there was a professional line that never got crossed during meetings. Strategies on the part of the supervisor and the students helped enhance comprehensibility, they led however to different outcomes. Over time the socializing aspects continued to foster open lines of communication with few if any controversies, in fact understanding was greatly improved and as well a certain closeness developed. The initial seriousness to enhance comprehensibility was quickly replaced by a more congenial atmosphere in a meeting of minds (Olson, 2005).