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Reducing Uncertainty Helps Us All

Uncertainty Reduction Theory by Berger and Calabrese is an interpersonal communication theory teaching us that reducing cognitive and behavioral uncertainty is key to relationship development. This makes sense, we find uncertainty uncomfortable and we use communication to reduce those feelings. We can be proactive in this process by frontloading uncertainty reduction. In our classes, we may have done this with pre-course communication, liquid syllabi, videos, and other humanizing strategies

Today, I ran into this instructional video from 1954 by Bell Telephone, teaching their customers about their new dial telephone systems. Many customers were not thrilled that they would no longer have the assistance of an operator to place their calls and were fearful of this new technology. Bell Telephone (and many other carriers) used film and television as a means for reducing uncertainty. 

For me, this video reinforces how important it is to acknowledge the uncertainty we all feel in the unknowns of our current circumstances and that frontloading uncertainty-reducing messages to our students will help students see that they are not alone in their feelings, that we as educators are leading the way with their best interests in mind, and that we are, all together, pioneering a moment of transformational change.

Practically speaking, this video also reminds me that uncertainty can come from anywhere. If a student does not know how to do something in the LMS (even as simple as, let's say, creating an email) it can create uncertainty, discomfort, and anxiety. Our clear, brief demonstration videos, of even the most basic actions, can transform the student experience in our classes.

What are you doing in your classes to reduce uncertainty? How can we encourage our peers and institutions to prioritize this need?

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