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Characteristics of Successful Student-Faculty Interaction Outside the Classroom

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Technical Session

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.320.1 - 22.320.10

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Paper Authors

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Sara A. Atwood Elizabethtown College

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Tomas Estrada Elizabethtown College

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Characteristics of successful student-faculty interaction outside the classroomStudent-faculty interaction, including contact outside the classroom, is one of the most importantfactors in undergraduate student motivation and performance [1, 2]. In engineering, both studentsand faculty have limited time due to rigorous curricula and research expectations, and so may notprioritize contact outside the classroom. However, particularly in multidisciplinary courses, thiscontact may be critical to help students with various backgrounds learn the course material.Fusani [3], through an applied communications approach, studied the salient characteristics ofout-of-class student-faculty interaction. We build upon this framework by investigating theimpact of student-faculty interaction outside the classroom in a variety of courses in amultidisciplinary engineering program. Our purpose is to identify qualities of successful student-faculty interaction to help both students and faculty optimize their contact outside of class.Our study focused on three courses within the general engineering curriculum: Statics, PhysicsIII, and Signals and Systems. Total enrollment in these courses is about 80 students, with eachcourse spanning various engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical, computer). We kept adetailed log of student-faculty interaction outside the classroom, including the frequency andduration of each contact. We also classified the nature of each interaction according to certaindistinguishing characteristics, such as whether the students visited individually or in a group,whether the student sat down or stood at the door, whether there was any work done on theboard, and whether the interaction took place within scheduled office hours. We then examinedthe relationship between these characteristics and the students’ performance in the class, asmeasured by their grade.Students engaging in more than four visits in a 5-week period had significantly higher gradesthan students engaging in one to three visits (p = 0.069) or zero visits (p < 0.001). Of the topstudents (grades more than 0.5 standard deviations above the mean), 76% interacted with facultyoutside the classroom. This interaction was characterized by an average frequency of 3.9 visits,an average length of 16 minutes, board work about 50% of the time, group visits 37% of thetime, with visits occurring an average of 1.5 days before an assignment is due, and outsidescheduled office hours 65% of the time. For the struggling students (grades more than 0.5standard deviations below the mean), only 23% interacted with faculty outside the classroom.The factor that best correlated with student performance was frequency of contact, followed bytotal interaction time. Factors not correlated with student performance were average length ofvisit and number of days before the assignment due date. With respect to discipline, there wereno differences except that undecided students were less likely to have contact. With respect togender, female students appeared to have a greater increase in grade with more interaction. Withrespect to year, the youngest students (sophomores) were the least likely to visit, with more than60% never having faculty contact outside the classroom. These results can help tailor studentfaculty interaction outside of class. [1] Chickering A.W. and Gamson, A.F. Seven principles for good practice in undergraduateeducation. Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation, Inc., (1987).[2]  Endo,  J.  and  Harpel,  R.  The  effects  of  student-­‐faculty  interaction  on  students'  educational  outcomes.  Research  in  Higher  Education,  16,  115-­‐138  (1982).  [3]   Fusani,   D.   “Extra-­‐class”   communication:   Frequency,   immediacy,   self-­‐disclosure,   and  satisfaction   in   student-­‐faculty   interaction   outside   the   classroom.   Journal   of   Applied  Communication  Research,  22(3),  232-­‐255  (1994).    

Atwood, S. A., & Estrada, T. (2011, June), Characteristics of Successful Student-Faculty Interaction Outside the Classroom Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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