Communication and Security Issues in Online Education: Student Self-Disclosure in Course Introductions

July 30, 2017

In designing online and hybrid courses, instructors should consider structure, student motivation, and interaction (per Moore’s 1993 Theory of Transactional Distance). To motivate students to interact and to build course community, instructors may assign student introductions. However, after examining students’ introductions in a hybrid content-design course and an online design course, we noted that students self-disclosed private information in their introductions, whether to classmates or instructors. To investigate further, we analyzed the content of discussion-board and email-to-instructor introductions in a community college (first data set). Then, we analyzed discussion-board and memo-to-instructor introductions at a four-year university (second data set). We identified categories in the information that students disclosed, noting that they shared demographic, professional, academic, and personal information, some of which were identifiers that could compromise the students’ privacy. Our findings are relevant to professional communication, instruction design, pedagogy, and writing research as the study sheds light on issues that we address as investigators, instructors, and student advocates in a variety of contexts, specifically online spaces.

Journal of Interactive Online Learning