Examining Perceptions of Online Faculty Regarding the Value of Emotional Intelligence in Online Classrooms


Diane Hamilton
Ashford University
diane.hamilton@faculty.ashford.edu

Abstract

Due to the growth of interest in soft skills and personality traits in education, the perceptions of the value online instructors place on emotional intelligence (EI), warrants scholarly attention. Organizations have embraced the value of emotional intelligence in employees.  If online professors are instrumental in preparing students to be successful in the business world, their perception of the skills that employers value is important. For this study, the definition of EI was based on the components as defined by Reuven Bar-On’s model. Thirty-eight faculty members were recruited through Linkedin to provide their value of the EI in online classes.  A survey instrument was developed for this purpose.  The results indicated that the majority believed flexibility was most important for stress management, problem-solving most important for decision-making, relationship building for interpersonal skills, emotional expression, assertiveness and independence were equally ranked for self-expression, emotional self-awareness was most important for self-perception. If online instructors are the ones who develop and deliver curriculum, it is important for them to understand the components of EI to ensure that students receive an education that includes skills that could improve their chances of success in the workplace.

Introduction

The value of improving soft skills, including emotional intelligence in the education arena has been studied.  Chamorro-Premuzic, Arteche, Bremner, Greven, and Furnham, (2010) found developing soft skills leads to improved academic performance. Emotional intelligence is commonly studied in the modern workplace as well as in education. Most of the research in education involves students’ levels of EI. Qualter, Gardner, Pope, Hutchinson, and Whiteley (2012) found that it might be important to improve EI to improve educational improvement and that EI might be a predictor of performance. MacCann, Forgarty, Zeidner and Roberts (2011), in their work regarding importance of EI in academic achievement, found “better educational outcomes might be achieved by targeting skills relating to emotion management and problem-focused coping” (p. 60).  However, although there is some traditional education EI research, there is insufficient research regarding EI in online instructors or online students. At the time Han and Johnson (2012) wrote about EI in online students, they stated, “There are no empirical studies that investigate the role of emotional intelligence and social bond in students’ interactions in online learning environments” (p. 86). With the wealth of literature regarding the importance of EI regarding performance and leadership, it might be important to consider the levels of EI in online instructors. Part of having emotional intelligence is to be able to recognize emotions in oneself as well as within others (Alavinia, 2011).

In an attempt to learn more about instructors’ perceptions of EI, it was important they understand the meaning of the components of EI.  From the multiple models that assess an individual’s level of EI, the EQ-i assessment from Bar-On was chosen for this study.  “The EQ-I is a self-report measure of emotionally and socially intelligent behavior” (Fernandez-Berrocal & Extremera, 2006, p. 1). Instructors were asked to complete a survey based on the definition of EI as described in Bar-On’s EQ-i model, which includes five inventories:  self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal skills, decision-making, and stress management.  Each of these inventories includes subsections for a total of 15 scales.  Self-perception includes self-regard, self-actualization, and emotional self-awareness.  Self-expression includes emotional expression, assertiveness, and independence.  Interpersonal skills include interpersonal relationships, empath, and social responsibility.  Decision-making includes problem-solving, reality testing, and impulse control.  Stress management includes flexibility, stress tolerance, and optimism.  Due to the costs associated with giving the actual assessment, it was not administered as part of the current study.  Instead, this study was meant to be foundational to determine instructors’ perceptions of the areas within EI as defined by Bar-On (2015).  This definition “consists of emotional self-awareness as well as various skills or characteristics that might stem from the effective use or regulation of emotions, such as good interpersonal relationships, problem-solving, and stress tolerance” (Schutte, Malouff, Thorsteinisson, Bhuller & Rooke, 2007, p. 921).

Thirty-eight adjunct faculty members who were recruited through LinkedIn completed an instrument developed for this purpose.  Five of the responses were not used due to skipped answers.  Thirty-three responses were used for the purpose of this study.  The results are reported as descriptive statistics.  Instructors ranked their perception of the importance of the factors associated with EI including stress management, decision-making, interpersonal skills, self-expression, and self-perception. The importance placed on each of these factors by the instructors were nearly evenly distributed, with interpersonal skills ranking as the top priority. Within each of these five factors, online adjunct faculty members reported the associated skill they believed most important within each factor.  The results indicated that the majority believed flexibility was most important for stress management, problem-solving most important for decision-making, relationship building for interpersonal skills, emotional expression, assertiveness and independence were equally ranked for self-expression, emotional self-awareness was most important for self-perception. Limitations and recommendations for future research are discussed. 



Literature Review

History and EQi

Emotional intelligence research dates back to studies by Thorndike’s work with social intelligence.  Thorndike (1920) defined social intelligence as “the ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls – to act wisely in human relations” (Alavinia, 2011). The attention to emotional intelligence was advanced by the work of Salovey and Mayer (1990) Daniel Goleman popularized EI when he published popular books in 1998 and 2006. Bar-On proposed a mode of EI that included mixed intelligence. “Bar-On’s model of emotional intelligence relates to the potential for performance and success” (Alavania, 2011, p. 957). Bar-On’s EQ-i has been administered to university students where students demonstrated the ability to improve their levels of EI over the course of a semester (Leedy & Smith, 2006). Dawda and Hart (1999) also used the EQ-i instrument in their research of university students; they determined validity results were similar for men and women. Yuksel and Geban (2014) utilized the EQ-i to study academic achievement and found that the influence of EI was notable at the sub-dimension level. Therefore, the EQ-i might be a good model to use to determine the potential for students and instructors to use emotional intelligence to improve in the classroom setting.  

EI in Students

There is a wealth of research regarding the importance of EI in student success.  Qualter, Gardner, Pope, Hutchinson, and Whiteley (2012) studied the importance of EI regarding its prediction of later academic success and determined it might be valuable to improve levels of EI in students.   Saklofske, Austin, Mastoras, Beaton, and Osborne (2011) found that having EI coping mechanisms might be important to achieve academic success. How students can cope within the college setting has been addressed in many studies.  Por, Barriball, Fitzgerald, and Roberts (2011) determined students who can cope effectively with stress have enhanced well-being. EI has also been associated with students’ personal growth and engagement. Abe (2011) discovered that positive emotions led to their overall success and personal growth. Ahmad (2011) stated that understanding the importance of EI, specifically behavioral and motivational skills, might be the foundation for the growth of students. Having a positive learning experience might be important for student engagement (Brackett et al., 2011). It may be important for school leaders and instructors to focus on EI due to the impact it may have on their academic goals. Kingston (2008) found “A student’s level of emotional competence could, therefore, be argued to influence a significant part of the 75 percent of variance in academic performance” (p. 137). Berenson, Boyles, and Weaver (2008) found “EI emerged as the most significant direct predictor of GPA” (p. 1).

EI in Instructors:

What might be less prevalent in the research is the evaluation of EI in instructors and their perception of the importance of EI for student success. The lack of research might be problematic for instructors and students because teachers often rely on theories to shape their teaching styles (Alvainia, 201). Sutton and Wheatly (2003) found that for instructors to be effective and deliver quality learning, they have emotional competence.  It might be important to determine the value they place on theories of the importance of emotional intelligence. Alavinia (2012) gave Bar-On’s EQ-i instrument to 50 professors and found a relationship between EI and self-efficacy; the results indicated that instructors should improve their sensitivity to help students achieve success.  What might be most important from Alavinia’s (2012) study was the finding that it is important that “both researchers and teacher trainers pay more attention to promoting professors’ emotional intelligence and their sense of efficacy and reconceptualize their teaching endeavors in the early years of teaching career” (p. 962). More research would need to be conducted to determine the impact of continuing EI training in instructors.

The importance of improving EI in instructors cannot be overstated according to other research studies.  Vesley, Saklofske, and Leschied (2013) found that improving EI might be the foundation for improving teacher’s psychological health as we as translate into positive outcomes for students. Having proper coping mechanisms is an important aspect of EI.  Teaching has been associated with exhaustion and burnout (Hargreaves, 1998).  It might be important for instructors to recognize unpleasant emotions including stress and alter patterns based on that recognition.  Vesley, Saklofske, and Leschied (2013) explained, “Once negative emotions are present, a teacher is compromised and less able to uphold his or her idea level of efficacy” (p. 74). If EI is defined as the ability to recognize emotions in oneself as well as in others, students with a high level of EI may recognize low levels of EI in their instructor, which might lead to lack of confidence in instruction.

The perception instructors have of EI may be critical to their students’ success. Arghode (2013) explained the importance of instructors having emotional self-awareness and to use emotions within learning activities to incorporate a memorable learning experience. If instructors promote the importance of EI skills in class, students may benefit with lower drop-out rates (Kingston, 2008).  Educators who are aware of the importance of EI could make the students; experience a more positive one. “Higher Education should, therefore, be an experience that promotes self-awareness, peer support and a proactive attitude to self-improvement” (Kingston, 2008, p. 137). For this to occur within the education setting, instructors would need to be made aware of the value of EI and possibly tested to determine their current levels.  Because EI may be improved (Goleman, 2001), it is important for anyone who takes an EI assessment to have the information for how to increase their score.  

There is research to support incorporating more EI into all levels of education including higher education. The curriculum could be designed with emotional intelligence components in mind. In higher education, an example might be MBA curriculum. “An MBA education can help people learn the cognitive, social and emotional intelligence competencies needed to be outstanding managers and leaders” (Boyatzis, & Saatcioglu, 2008, p. 105). By creating programs that promote EI, students may be more prepared for interpersonal relationships within the workplace.  “One of the primary objectives of training and graduate management education is to prepare people to be outstanding managers, leaders, and professionals” (Boyatzis, & Saatcioglu, 2008, p. 105). As companies begin to focus on hiring individuals with soft skills, schools might benefit from having a procedure in place to not only teach courses that include EI components but also have ways to demonstrate to employers that their graduates have enviable levels of EI, which could make them more employable.

The key to improving students’ EI might be to educate the educators to regard EI as a crucial component in the field of education. For that to occur, instructors must be able to demonstrate that they have high levels of emotional intelligence. “If we are to teach students (i.e., future managers) that emotion is to be understood and addressed directly as an informative resource, then we have to lead by example in our classrooms.” (Bowen, 2014, p. 114).  However, Bowen (2014) noted that faculty might not have the emotional intelligence training required to impart those skills to their students. Rather than avoiding emotions or minimalizing the importance of them in organizations, it might be important for educators to embrace their importance.  Instructors should “encourage students to engage in direct emotional expression, followed by a dialogue about the advantages and disadvantages of emotional cognitization and control” (Raelin & Raelin, 2011, p. 21). For this to occur, it might be important for administrators and educators who develop the HR training programs and the curriculum to learn about the importance of incorporating EI training into schools and universities.

Data and Methodology

Method
The purpose of this study was to determine online adjunct faculty members’ perceptions of emotional intelligence.  After receiving approval from the IRB board, an 11-item instrument developed using SurveyMonkey was made available in a Linkedin group of online adjunct professors.  Three of the items were demographic in nature to obtain information regarding participants’ gender, age, and years of experience teaching online courses. Had there been enough responses, the demographic data may have been useful to perform a correlational analysis. However, since there were not enough responses, the data will be displayed in descriptive format.

Online instructors were asked to rate the importance of the five inventories on a scale from one to five. One was the lowest of importance through five the highest.  They were also asked to pick a scale from each of the inventories that they believed to be the most important to help them do their job.  If there were consistency in opinions of importance, it might lead to developing training to improve online instructors’ levels of EI.  If some of the 15 scales were not determined to be as important as other areas of EI, it could be possible to create more tailored training programs.  It might also show that there is a difference in perception of skills deemed important and that there could be a need for training to improve balance.

Participants
Participants were required from a Linkedin group of online adjunct professors.  They were requested to respond to the survey if they had taught online courses.  It is difficult to determine an actual number of members within Linkedin groups who actively participate. From the 432 members, there were 38 responses. Of the 38 responses, 5 chose to skip questions.  There reasons for skipping the questions is not known.  The same 5 individuals skipped all questions and therefore, 33 of the responses included usable data. Of the respondents, 21 (64%) were female, 12 (36%) male. This was an anticipated percentage because more women than men work as online instructors. Regarding their age, 2 (6%) were 25 to 34, 5 (15%) were 35 to 44, 12 (37%) were 45-54, 9 (27%) were 55 to 64, 4 (12%) were 65 to 74, and 1 (3%) were 75 or older.  Regarding online teaching experience, 4 (12%) had fewer than 3 years, 8 (24%) had 3 to 5 years, 13 (40%) had 6-10 years, and 8 (24%) had more than 10 years.

Instrumentation/Survey
For this report, an 11-item instrument was created.  The instrument was pilot tested with online professors before being posted in the Linkedin group as recommended by Radhakrishna (2007). Hamilton (2013) used this same pilot-testing technique in previous research regarding online instructors’ perception of online education as compared to traditional education. Items were designed to assess participants’ perceptions of emotional intelligence as define by Bar-On’s EQ-i instrument. Online instructors were asked to rate the importance of the five inventories on a scale from one to five. One was the lowest of importance through five the highest.  They were also asked to pick a scale from each of the inventories that they believed to be the most important to help them do their job.  It was determined if there were consistency in opinions of importance, it might lead to developing training to improve online instructors’ levels of EI. The survey was designed in this matter to determine if certain areas within EI were deemed more important than others. If some of the 15 scales were not determined to be as important as other areas of EI, it could be possible to create more tailored training programs to improve in areas in which instructors lacked skills and to explain the significance of the areas they believed to be less important than others. 

Procedures
The instrument was posted in the LinkedIn group with a request asking members to participate in a brief survey of their opinions of emotional intelligence. It is difficult to get people to respond to surveys; therefore, it was also noted that the time requirement to take the survey would take less than a few minutes.  The instructions included the requirement that they provide a name to acknowledge that they read the consent form; however, their data were assigned numbers to maintain anonymity.  The survey was created using SurveyMonkey.  The participants were not able to advance to the survey without accepting the consent page.  Once past the consent page, demographic data was obtained, and finally, the perception of EI questions addressed.  It is not unusual to have low response rates to surveys posted in Linkedin groups. This may be due to several factors, including the size of the group, how often participants check into the group, willingness to participate in surveys, among other undetermined reasons. Several attempts were made to obtain responses.  Email requests were sent to group members in addition to reminder posts in the forum. After several weeks of no additional responses based on those attempts, a total of 33 responses were included in the analysis.

Results and Discussion

Due the limited responses, a complete correlational analysis was not possible. The results are reported as descriptive statistics.  Instructors ranked their perception of the importance of the factors associated with EI including stress management, decision-making, interpersonal skills, self-expression, and self-perception. The importance placed on each of these factors by the instructors were nearly evenly distributed, with interpersonal skills ranking as the top priority. Within each of these five factors, online adjunct faculty members reported the associated skill they believed most important within each factor.  The results indicated that the majority believed flexibility was most important for stress management, problem-solving most important for decision-making, relationship building for interpersonal skills, emotional expression, assertiveness and independence were equally ranked for self-expression, emotional self-awareness was most important for self-perception. Limitations and recommendations for future research are discussed. 

Overall Ranking of EQ-i Five Factors
Instructors were asked to rank their perceived importance of each of the five factors associated with EI as described in Bar-On’s model. The participants indicated were asked to rate the five factors in order (1 for low through 5 for high) of importance as they perceived them for an online instructor.  The results were evenly divided with the interpersonal skills at 3.24, decision-making at 3.12, self-perception at 3.09, self-expression at 2.97, and stress management at 2.58.

Within the area of stress management, instructors were asked to rate the skill they believed to be the most important for online instructors. The results indicated that 63.64% believed flexibility was most important, followed by 18.18% for stress tolerance, and 18.18% for optimism.

Within the area of decision-making skills, instructors were asked to rate the skill they believed to be the most important for online instructors.  The results indicated that 60.61% believed problem solving was most important, followed by 24.24% for impulse control, and 15.15% for reality testing.

Within the area of interpersonal skills, instructors were asked to rate the skill they believed to be the most important for online instructors.  The results indicated that 51.52% believed interpersonal relationships was most important, followed by 36.36% for empathy, and 12.12% for social responsibility.

Within the area of self-expression skills, instructors were asked to rate the skill they believed to be the most important for online instructors.  The results indicated that 33.33% believed interpersonal relationships was most important, 33.33% for assertiveness, and 33.33% for independence.

Within the area of self-perception, instructors were asked to rate the skill they believed to be the most important for online instructors.  The results indicated that 72.73% believed emotional self-awareness was most important, followed by 24.24% for self-actualization, and 3.03% for self-regard. This was the only response where the answers were evenly distributed. It might warrant further investigation to determine why there was not a universally-preferred response to this question.

One final question was included. Instructors were asked if they would be interested in participating in additional EI research. Twenty-one instructors requested to be considered for additional research.  This could be the foundation for a future study where online instructors take the EQ-i to determine EI results. 

The results from the current study indicated that the majority believed flexibility was most important for stress management, problem-solving most important for decision-making, relationship building for interpersonal skills, emotional expression, assertiveness and independence were equally ranked for self-expression, emotional self-awareness was most important for self-perception.  

Concluding Comments

There is a wealth of research to demonstrate the importance of improving emotional intelligence.  Although there is no research, as of this date, to demonstrate that online instructors receive any EI training.  Online instructors might have to take HR-based training to cover topics like Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) required by the U.S. Department of Education (“Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act”, 2016), as well as many other topics including avoiding sexual or other types of discrimination. Schools may often require instructors to take training to improve classroom skills including tactics of how to provide proper feedback. However, to date, there I no research to determine how many schools provide training to improve social and emotional skills.

When instructors return papers, they are required to provide feedback so that students can improve for the next assignment.  That may require them to give constructive criticism. When providing feedback, it might be important to deliver it in a way that allows instructors to express themselves well.  Instructors who have empathy or the ability to put themselves in another person’s position, may be more likely to provide feedback in a meaningful and positive way. 

Instructors may not be aware that they lack empathy or interpersonal skills. An advantage of taking the EQ-i is the action plan associated with creating SMART goals to improve areas of EI.  An example of a goal might be to improve feedback given to students.  Goals would need to be specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely.  Therefore, an example would be to create meaningful feedback on every assignment that would allow students to improve their writing/learning skills, deemed as appropriate by an instructional specialist or fellow instructor, and saved as a template to reuse for other future potential similar student issues.

It might also be important for online instructors who work virtually to handle the pressures of working independently. Instructors may have stress or other emotionally-related issues that could be improved with EI training.  For instructors to recognize that they have any EI deficiencies, it may be helpful to take an assessment like Bar-On’s EQ-i.  The assessment can be given virtually, and the results may be shared virtually in an online training session. 

Instructors are often given annual performance reviews. Instructors could be held accountable for these goals by creating a development plan as part of annual training or annual goals. The EQ-i could be given as needed to determine if improvement in their EI levels have been attained. There are few quantitative ways to determine if soft skills like emotional intelligence have been improved.  Taking an assessment like the EQ-i might be helpful in this regard. However, it is important to keep in mind that any self-assessment may have some reliability and validity issues due to the subjectivity involved.  The EI assessment creators have taken that into account when building the assignment and have put in fail-safe questions to ensure reliability.  However, employers should not use an emotional intelligence assessment as a tool to punish employees should their results not be as desired.  Instead, the information provided with the results should be used to help develop employees in a way that improves their work performance.

As demonstrated in this study, some of the 15 scales were not determined to be as important to instructors as other areas of EI.  That is not to imply that some of them are less important than others.  It was important to break them down for instructors to narrow in on areas that they deemed important to them. However, knowing their insight is just the beginning. It could be possible for schools to create tailored EI training programs.  It might be possible that instructors do not fully appreciate the importance of all aspects or EI because they have not had EI training.  Their differing responses might also indicate that there is a difference in perception of skills deemed important and that there could be a need for training to improve balance.  One of the benefits of having instructors take an assessment like the EQ-i would be to obtain input about any lack of balance in their scales. The important thing is that there is some follow-up on any assessment and training. Once instructors learn the importance of EI, they could utilize their EI skills to improve their classroom relationships, as well as improve their personal and coworker relationships.  They could also improve any curriculum development with which they are associated.  What many may not realize is that they could also use their new-found skills to improve and advance their career in leadership positions. Goleman’s work on the importance of EI in leadership has been demonstrated in numerous studies.  As online schools continue to change, having the ability to deal with stress and personality issues could be another important skill for instructors to demonstrate and list on their resume.

Biography
Dr. Diane Hamilton (diane.hamilton@ashford.edu) has served as a full-time MBA Program Chair and Assistant Professor at the Forbes School of Business at Ashford University.  She has a Ph.D. in Business Administration and has more than 10 years of online teaching experience. She became interested in emotional intelligence (EI) when she wrote her doctoral dissertation regarding the relationship between EI and sales performance.  She is a certified EQ-i and qualified Myers Briggs MBTI instructor and is a professional speaker and consultant.

 


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Appendix

Defining the 15 scales:
Self-Perception Includes the Following Scales:
Self-Regard: “Individuals with self-regard respect themselves and accept both personal strengths and limitations while remaining satisfied and self-secure” (Bar-On EQ-I, n.d.).
Self-Actualization: “Self-actualization can be summed up in three words: pursuit of meaning” (Bar-On EQ-I, nd.).
Emotional Self Awareness: “If you have a solid understanding of what causes your emotions, it is much easier to regulate your behavior and control the impact your emotions have on those you work with” (Bar-On EQ-I, n.d.)

Self-Expression Includes the Following Scales:
Emotional Expression: “Individuals who effectively express emotions use words and physical expressions to convey their feelings in a way that is not hurtful to others” (BarOn EQ-i, n.d.).
Assertiveness: “Picture a line between the words passive and aggressive. At the middle point of this line lies assertiveness, a place where you work with others by finding the right words at the right time to express your feelings and thoughts” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).
Independence: “You are capable of feeling, thinking, and working on your own” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).

Interpersonal Skills Include the Following Scales:
Interpersonal Relationships: “Is about developing and maintaining mutually satisfying relationships” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).
Empathy: “Empathy, the ability to recognize, understand, and appreciate the way others feel, is a crucial EI skill at the heart of all effective work relationships” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).
Social Responsibility: “Social responsibility is that moral compass directing your behavior toward promoting the greater good and contributing to society and one’s social groups” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).

Decision-Making Includes the Following Scales:
Problem Solving: “Problem Solving is not about the quality of your solutions, but rather at how effectively you use your emotions in the process of solving a problem” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).
Reality Testing: “Call it “being grounded” or “tuned into the situation,” Reality Testing means seeing things for what they really are. In business, this includes accurately sizing up the environment, resources, and future trends in order to set realistic plans/goals” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).
Impulse Control: “Impulse control involves understanding the appropriate times and ways to act on emotions and impulses, and the importance of thinking before acting” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).

Stress Management Includes the Following Scales:
Flexibility: “Flexibility requires that you be able to modify your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in response to change” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).
Stress Tolerance: “Stress Tolerance is the ability to cope with and respond effectively to stress and mounting pressure” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).
Optimism: “Optimism, the ability to remain positive despite setbacks, often differentiates between “star performers” and others in the workplace. It permeates almost every application of EI, from helping you persevere to enabling you to view change as a good thing” (Bar-On, EQ-I, n.d.).

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Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume XX, Number 1, Spring 2017
University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center
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