Undergraduate Millennial Students’ Perceptions
Frequency of Responses
Did not use VOHs, but feels that they are helpful.
Never installed instant messaging software.
Did not know how to operate software.
Did not need to use VOHs.
Wanted to figure out problems alone.
Did not have time to use VOHs.
Did not have access to a compute or the internet at home.
Used another instant messaging system.
Used e-mail to communicate with their professor.
Used blackboard to communicate with professor.
Likes face-to-face communication better.
In class communication was sufficient.
Wants to separate school and work from personal friendships.
Most of the responses emerged in the obstacles category, which had 28 student responses. Students responding in this category provided responses ranging from never installing the software and not being able to operate the software to lack of time to use the software and not feeling the need to use the VOHs. The least responses emerged in the privacy category, which included a student response about the important of separating work/school and their personal friendships. The response categories are highlighted in the next sections.
Students who did not use VOHs, but think that the feature is helpful. Some students chose not to use VOHs in the Spring 2008 semester, but they believed VOHs were helpful. A few students would have used VOHs if they downloaded Yahoo Instant Messenger and/or if they knew how to use the software. One student contributed, “I do believe [that] [I] would [have] taken advantage of [VOHs] if [I] did have yahoo instant messenger.” Another student stated, “I didn't because I do not have Yahoo Instant Messenger [,] but I feel it was very handy for the people who did have it.”
Students who encountered personal/technical obstacles. Over 30 students encountered obstacles that prevented the students from interacting with their professor during VOHs. These obstacles ranged from not having a computer or internet access at home to not having time to use or not needing VOHs. Slightly over ten students did not install the software required to use VOHs. One student stated, “I didn't use the virtual office hours via Yahoo simply because I didn't have the software on my computer and with my busy [class schedule] and work, it would have been difficult for me to utilize it.” Another student did not use VOHs, because they did not have an instant messenger account. He stated, “No[,] I did not use the virtual office hours. I think that it is a great idea, but [did] I not have an instant messenger account and never really had to use the messenger to try and get a hold of [the professor].”
A few students did not have access to a computer or internet access. One student who had internet access experienced technical problems with the software, “[The] computer I have access to would not load [Yahoo Instant Messenger] or blackboard.” Other students had access to a computer, but they did not have time to use the software. One student stated, “I am usually in a hurry when I get on the computer so I am only on it for a short period of time.”
Slightly fewer than ten students felt that they did not need instant messenger or they wanted to figure out class material themselves. One student stated, “No, I never had a question that I couldn't wait until class to get answered. Another student contributed a similar comment, “No, any question that I had I would ask in class or through email.
Students who used other communication methods. Sixteen students chose to communicate with their professor using traditional and online communication methods. One student felt that her questions were answered in class, “I did not use the virtual office hours because I believed the assistance I received in class to be sufficient.” Two other students had their questions answered on the class site on blackboard.com. They stated, “No, I don't really know what that is. I would rather just use blackboard” and “I did not use yahoo messenger because I didn't need to. All questions I had were answered through blackboard.”
One student felt that VOHs invades a level of her privacy. She stated, “No, I did not. I rarely use my Yahoo IM, and it's nothing personal, but I prefer any IMs to stay between friends and family, and not school or work.”
Despite their non-usage of VOHs this semester, some students stated that they would use instant messenger in the future. Undergraduate millennial students in this study answered the survey question #3, “I wish that more professors would use virtual office hours (yahoo instant messenger)” using a Likert scale system. Table 2 indicates the frequency of their responses.
Frequency of Responses
A majority of responses (20%) were neutral. Approximately 28 responses emerged in the “strongly agree” and “agree” categories, while only seven responses emerged in the “disagree” or “strongly disagree” categories. The categories with the lowest amount of responses were the “disagree” or “strongly disagree” categories. Based on their responses, it seems that most of the students in this study prefer to use VOHs in the future.
Students’ Suggestions Regarding Additional Communication Technology
Students offered many comments regarding the question, “What other technology (via the internet) would you prefer to use to communicate with your professor?” Some students offered suggestions ranging from internet technology such as e-mail, text messages, and facebook.com. Other students opted for more traditional communication methods such as regular office hours and communicating with the professor after class.
There were 36 responses from students who preferred e-mail. One student stated, “I liked email best so that way I could ask what [I] wanted and then come back when I needed the answer and I usually had an email back within that time.” Another student contributed, “I used email a lot this semester and it is very effective to me because I check my email so much and most professors also check email regularly.” Other students experienced problems with messenger and blackboard. One student suggested, “Just plain email address like yahoo. [M]y messenger would not load but [I] could always check my emails on yahoo and blackboard hardly ever worked.” Some preferred e-mail communication, while others preferred communicating with their professor on yahoo instant messenger.
Approximately 25 responses were centered on instant messaging (VOHs). Most of the students offered positive comments about the subject of instant messaging. Some students thought that instant messaging (VOHs) was one of the best technologies that professors could use to connect with their students. A few students suggested that more professors should use instant messenger. Some of their responses were: “I wish that more professors would use virtual office hours (yahoo instant messenger).” and “[I liked] the fact that [the professor] had messenger and allowed all students the option to use it was the most help that [I] have EVER had from a professor.” Another student liked the concept of chatting online with their professor,
I think the internet is the best way to communicate with a professor since some
professors do not like to talk on the phone. A neat function that could be used as
another technology would be to communicate via live chat in which both the
professor and student use a web camera (if available) so that the expressions can
be seen - this would be better because there is still a face-to-face interaction.
Other students suggested that professors should use software such as MSN (Microsoft-based instant messaging program) or AIM (America Online-based instant messaging program).
There were five responses centered on facebook.com or text messaging to foster communication between professor and student. One student contributed, “I think text messages would be interesting; especially if something were to change at the last minute. Another student offered, “I would say text messaging with [a] cell phone but I doubt [professors] would want to because it would cost extra. [E]verybody would constantly be texting [the professor] and [he or she] probably wouldn't get to talk on the phone because [they would] just be texting all of the time.” Some students preferred social networking technology and text messaging, while others preferred traditional communication techniques.
Eight responses were centered on traditional communication methods when communicating with their students. These communication methods were: offering regular office hour sessions, using the telephone, and staying after class. In regards to face-to-face office hours, one student stated, “I prefer to meet at the professor's office better.” Another student stated, “[I] would rather just have face to face communication [or] over the phone if absolutely necessary.” Five students preferred to use the telephone to communicate with their professors. One of these students stated, “[I think] phone calls in general would be useful when communicating with professors and classmates.” Another student assumed professors do not telephone-based communication. He stated, “[I would like professors to use] [t]he phone but a lot of professors don't like that. They [would rather] communicate through the internet.”
Overall, it seems that most of the students are comfortable with technology and they would prefer to communicate with their professor though the internet. More than half of the responses in this category related to professors using instant messenger, e-mail or blackboard to foster communication with their students.
The purpose of my study was to discover the perceptions of 55 undergraduate college students regarding VOHs. The two research questions studied were: (1) “What are college students’ perceptions of virtual office hours?” and (2) “What is undergraduate students’ preferred type of computer mediated communication with the professor?” This section presents the conclusions for research questions one and two.
Undergraduate millennial students from a mid-sized institution located in central Texas completed a questionnaire consisting of three survey questions. Two survey questions addressed research question one. Survey questions one and three were, “Did you use the virtual office hours (via Yahoo Instant Messenger) this semester? Why or Why Not?” and “I wish that more professors would use virtual office hours (yahoo instant messenger).”
Only 14 students used the VOHs this semester and 41 students decided not to use the feature. Most of the students used the software to notify the professor about absences or to ask questions about their assignment. Many of the users thought that the program was user friendly and convenient. A majority of the students who did not use VOHs encountered obstacles that prevented them from using the software. Most of the obstacles included “never installed the software” or “did not need to use VOHs.” One interesting finding was the student’s comment regarding their perception of VOHs and their impact on her privacy.
Research question two was: “What other technology (via the internet) would you prefer to use to communicate with your professor?” There were 35 responses from students who preferred e-mail communication. Other students offered 25 responses related to instant messaging and eight responses related to social networking websites/text messaging. Eight students preferred to communicate with their professor using traditional communication techniques (i.e. – face-to-face, telephone).
It seems that most of the undergraduate millennial students in this study preferred to communicate with their professor though e-mail or instant messenger. Over 61 responses were centered on virtual communication in an asynchronous or synchronous manner. Only eight students preferred to communicate with their professor in a face-to-face environment. Five responses focused on communicating with a professor through facebook.com.com or text messaging.
In this study, it seems that undergraduate millennial students preferred virtual communication with their professor over face-to-face communication. After conducting a literature review and analyzing the undergraduate millennial students’ responses, a few implications emerged from the data. The students’ responses affirm the Social Presence Theory regarding communication technology. It seems that the more familiar undergraduate students become with a technology, the more likely they are to become comfortable communicating with others through that technology.
It seems that professors should introduce new communication technologies in their courses. Only 25.5% of the students in these three COMS101 courses used the virtual office hour feature, but a large majority of these students offered positive responses regarding the instant messaging system for office hours. Professors who are uncomfortable with using technology should begin using instant messaging software to communicate with family and friends, then expand their technological knowledge to include their students.
Professors should also caution themselves against becoming a “24 hour professor.” This type of professor is available to their students a majority of time and does not have a proper work/life balance. Professors should set specific VOHs and should adhere to their VOH schedule to prevent the “24 hour professor” phenomenon.
Those who are unsure if their students will adopt the technology should administer an informal survey to their students regarding the students’ communication technology preferences. This survey might include the elements in the “Student’s Suggestions Regarding Additional Communication Technology” section under the “Results and Discussion” section.
Student services-related departments may also want to examine VOHs to communicate with their students. Some students commute to their college or university campus to attend classes. Therefore, these departments should discover other communication methods to reach their diverse student populations.
This research study focuses on the perceptions of undergraduate millennial students who attend a mid-sized university in central Texas. This study was limited to the perceptions of 55 undergraduate millennial students and employed a qualitative research design. Due to the limited nature of this study, in the future, researchers may want to focus on: using a quantitative research design, increasing the population size, focusing on upper-level courses, and expanding the survey to include a larger class size.
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Dr. Jennifer T. Edwards is an assistant professor of communication studies at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. Her research interests include computer-mediated-communication, intercultural communication, and millennial college students.