Date of Award

12-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Educational Psychology and Research

Major Professor

Katherine Greenberg

Committee Members

Sky Huck, Trena Paulus, Ralph Brockett

Abstract

This dissertation was a mixed methods triangulation design combining quantitative and qualitative components. The purpose of this study was twofold. First, it examined the association between the frequency and quality of students’ online interactions with instructors and the quality of student-instructor relationship. Second, this study explored the meanings of student-instructor interactions mediated by online tools. Quantitative data were collected via an online survey from 320 undergraduate students enrolled at a public research university. Qualitative data sources were in-depth interviews with six undergraduate students and six professors, observations of student-instructor interactions on Facebook, and artifacts of student-instructor interaction via email. Hierarchical regression analysis showed that approximately one third of the variance in student-instructor connectedness was explained by the frequency of and satisfaction with face-to-face, email, Blackboard, and Facebook; the grade obtained in the class; and demographic variables. Significant predictors of connectedness were grade, frequency of face-to-face student interest-driven communication, satisfaction with the face-to-face interactions, and satisfaction with the email communication. The qualitative findings revealed that instructors held expectations of formal communication for email interactions, while students had expectations for response from instructors within one-two business days. The email practices identified for instructors included responding to student email within two days; compensating for limited face-to-face time; engaging students in communication about the class content; and dealing with student disengagement. Students adopted two main practices related to email: avoiding “emergency” emails to contact instructors, and using email to avoid face-to-face contact in some situations. For Facebook interactions, instructors expected that students initiate connections, while students expected that instructors signal their availability for connection with students. Instructors’ Facebook practices pointed out different approaches for accepting student friend requests; and performing interactions. Students’ practices on Facebook highlighted two patterns: initiating connections with instructors during the semester versus at the beginning of the semester. In addition, preserving connections beyond the boundaries of a class was a practice common to students and instructors.

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