Author

Kjrsten Keane

Date of Award

2007

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ded)

Department

Individually Designed

Advisor

Abigail Garthwait

Second Committee Member

Mary Madden

Third Committee Member

Herman Weller

Abstract

Contact between students and their faculty is one of the most important factors in student motivation and their continuation in college. Faculty can encourage students to be engaged in their courses, motivated to learn, and ultimately more capable of completing a four-year degree. This dissertation study sought to address a dearth in the information regarding the impact of email communication, despite its widespread use, on student-faculty relationships and the impact that the fostered relationship may have on engagement and ultimate college persistence. A survey was administered to a class of students in their second year of college at a small private college in the northeast, seeking perceptions about their first year experiences. Follow-up interviews were conducted to illustrate the responses of 15 students. Survey and interview data determined that students prefer to contact their faculty members via email, especially in the first year of college. A preference to email faculty differed from a preference to connect with friends and family face-to-face. Interview data indicated that the student preference for email contact with faculty was a result of feeling intimidated during face-to-face contacts. Survey data found that gender impacted the faculty-student email relationship as well. Female students were more likely to email female professors, and male students were more likely to email male professors. Students indicated in survey and interview data that their trust in faculty members increased as a result of email correspondence. Responses from the survey were also compared to data collected from the same pool of students in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and considered for improving a retention prediction model adapted by the researcher for use at the study location. The model uses a point system to assess student risk of attrition based on their participation and performance at key points during the academic year. Survey, interview, and NSSE data was used to identify points in the model that were appropriate for followup with a faculty-initiated email. This type of structured framework must be in place in order for institutions to link email correspondence with other strategies aimed at helping students and ultimately measured as part of a successful retention effort.

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