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A Nod in the Right Direction? Designing a Study to Assess an Instructor's Ability to Interpret Student Comprehension from Nonverbal Communication

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication Across the Divisions II: Communication and Transdisciplinary Pedagogies

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.76.1 - 26.76.18



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Paper Authors


Brock E. Barry P.E. U.S. Military Academy

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Dr. Brock E. Barry, P.E. is an Associate Professor and Mechanics Group Director in the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. Dr. Barry holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, a Master of Science degree from University of Colorado at Boulder, and a PhD from Purdue University. Prior to pursuing a career in academics, Dr. Barry spent 10-years as a senior geotechnical engineer and project manager on projects throughout the United States. He is a licensed professional engineer in multiple states. Dr. Barry’s areas of research include assessment of professional ethics, teaching and learning in engineering education, and learning through historical engineering accomplishments. He has authored and co-authored a significant number of journal articles and book chapters on these topics.

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Daniel J. Fox U.S. Military Academy

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MAJ Dan Fox is an Instructor in the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and a Master of Science degree in Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to serving as an instructor, MAJ Fox served as an engineer officer in the U.S. Army on a variety of projects around the world. This entry is MAJ Fox’s first professional publication…and he’s really excited about it.

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Robert M. Wendel U.S. Military Academy

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2LT Robert Wendel contributed to this research as a senior at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. In May 2015, 2LT Wendel graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and was commissioned into the Infantry branch of the United States Army.

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A Nod in the Right Direction? Designing a Study to Assess an Instructor’s Ability to Interpret Student Comprehension from Nonverbal Communication In the classroom environment, communication between instructor and student isfoundational to the learning process. While verbal messages are not always present duringclassroom communication, nonverbal messages are. Understanding factors which improve aninstructor’s ability to interpret student body language will help future generations of educatorsmore effectively asses their classroom environment and engage students. This paper focuses on the nonverbal portion of communication occurring withinclassrooms, specifically the nonverbal messages sent by students and received by the instructor.It also describes the completed performance of a pilot study to answer the research question ofwhether pedagogical experience influences an instructor’s ability to assess studentcomprehension based strictly on nonverbal communication. The extensive literature review forthis paper highlights nonverbal communication research methods across a wide variety ofdisciplines. The primary instrument utilized in this experiment is a series of 20 short video-only clipsshowing freshman college students providing written responses to a set of math questions. Thevideo is muted to present only nonverbal behavior, and is framed to display the student’s facialexpression and upper torso body position. A sample population of instructors were shown thesevideo clips and asked to assess the students’ comprehension based on nonverbal behavior.Secondary instruments were developed to: collect the participant’s assessment of studentconfidence, collect the participant’s confidence in their assessment of each student, collectspecific nonverbal behaviors identified by the participant in determining student confidence, andto collect demographic and pedagogical experience information, as well as specific priornonverbal communication training background. This paper details the pilot study’smethodology, draws conclusions based on the findings, and provides further recommendationsfor use in a full study. The pilot program discussed in this paper will be used to inform the performance of amore extensive research study. Ultimately, the full experiment’s results, recommendations, andsubsequent discussion will advance the body of knowledge needed to equip current and futureinstructors with the nonverbal communication training and skills, to supplement their ability toquickly and accurately assess students in their classroom. The pilot study discussed herein and planned full study have been designed toapproximately replicate a previous study performed using K-12 teachers as the participants. Noknown prior attempts to generalize the study to a population of college-level instructors havebeen made.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015