August 15, 2012
Teachers Talk - Cyberspace Can Reveal Students’ Personality Traits
Julia Falla, Teacher, West Coast Adventist Christian School, Williams Lake, BC

When I was asked to teach French as a Second Language online, many questions crossed my mind: Is this possible? How would the students learn to pronounce sounds properly? How would I get to know the students? What about their personality traits? How would I evaluate their progress? Would I be able to determine their strengths and weaknesses? I had so many questions.

During the summer of 2010, I took the AVLN course “Active On-line Teaching” which uses the Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (MOODLE), a learning management system used in education. This constructivist approach to education was interesting, but I wondered if I could use it to teach a Foreign Language.

Then I discovered Elluminate, a virtual classroom which allows a teacher to communicate with the students. In fact, it is through Elluminate that the Blackboard Collaborate TM platform provides a comprehensive learning platform designed for education, in particular, for K-12.

To have this technical knowledge was essential to organize and prepare the course, but I still wondered if my students would learn, and if I would get to know them. I had all these questions in my mind when I began to teach. Almost two years have passed, and I have to admit that this teaching experience is interesting not only at the pedagogical level but also at the psychological level. I realized that the students’ online behaviour could reveal personality traits just like faceto-face teaching situations can.

I was also able to use the Pathways to French Program, developed and published by the SDACC Education Department. I chose the themes that could better suit the students’ life experiences, adapted the grammar content in order to meet the requirements of the Ministry of Education in British Columbia, and used all the oral and written documents that could help them to achieve the Learning Outcomes required for a High School French Second Language Program.

Concerning the psychological level, I wondered if the Big Five-Factor Personality Traits (Costa & McCrae, 1992)1 would also be revealed in an on-line teaching environment. The Five-Factor Personality Traits include Conscientiousness (discipline, organization and achievementorientation); Neuroticism (emotional stability, impulse control, and anxiety); Extroversion (high degree of sociability, assertiveness, and talkativeness); Openness (strong intellectual curiosity and a preference for novelty and variety); and Agreeableness (being helpful, cooperative and sympathetic toward others). It was a real surprise for me to be able to identify these personality traits in my students, without meeting any of them personally. Those students who showed Conscientiousness were competitive and their academic performance seemed to be higher. Those who showed Neuroticism had some difficulty in class assignments, but were able to perform better if they could do the assignments as homework. Those who showed Extroversion were interested in working less, but willing to have high marks on assignments whether they were class assignments or homework. Those who manifested Openness also showed Conscientiousness. Those who demonstrated Agreeableness presented also the Extroversion factor. In general, these students had average performance. It was interesting to realize that the students who displayed Extroversion had a “protective” attitude towards those who had a poor work ethics. They were always trying to justify their lack of work in class.

I was curious to know if any research has been done that relates academic performance in online courses to the Big Five-Factor Model of Personality Traits. There were several studies on this field, but the one that caught my attention was the meta-analysis of the Five-Factor Model of Personality Traits and Academic Performance carried out by Poropat (2009)2. The results of this study demonstrate that Academic Performance seems to correlate significantly with Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness. These interesting results lead me to think that it is possible to know the personality traits of my students. It is certainly an open door for more research in this field.

Cyberspace can offer a multitude of possibilities and opportunities to learn. For me, it was a rich experience at all levels.


1 Costa, P.T., Jr., & McCrae, R.R. (1992). “Four ways five factors are basic”, Personality and Individual Differences , 13, 653-665.

2 Poropat, Arthur E. “A meta-analysis of the five-factor model of personality and academic performance”,  Psychological Bulletin, vol 135 (2), Mar 2009, 322-338.