A recent pilot project at a community college in Georgia found a link between student retention and faculty accessibility. So what did they do to tip the odds in favor of student success? They gave the profs smartphones and encouraged students to text and call their teachers on demand. The college asked profs to respond promptly, within 24 hours if possible.
This experiment is costly, about $1,000 per prof, but administrators say the ROI is significant. Early results show a student retention rate that is double that of similar schools in the area. Is this solely because of the mobile phone plan? Likely not, but the link between faculty accessibility and student self-efficacy is well known. Just being able to talk to the prof or text a quick question can make a world of difference to students. It extends the learning environment, and my guess is that most students would opt for text over voice most of the time—which can be a far less intrusive and more efficient communications method anyway.
A similar study of digital media use at a community college in Texas found that when students are connected to campus life and a friend network on Facebook, they have a greater likelihood of staying in school. Being plugged-in to classes and campus community via social and mobile technologies is not a luxury—it’s a key tool for student success and retention. This research casts doubt on the effectiveness of tech fasts that some campuses attempt regularly.
So what about the professors? Did they enjoy being on-call for their students? By and large, instructors in the Georgia pilot program found that students were respectful, reasonable, not overly demanding via mobile phones. Moreover, the expectations of responsiveness were not overly burdensome, as long as students did not demand immediacy, some profs said. And in a culture where “instant isn’t fast enough” it can be difficult for plugged-in profs and their digital native students alike to manage expectations about availability and accessibility of people and information.
But it’s not just Gen Y who benefit from agile connectivity online. As a bonus the faculty reported increased productivity as a result of the mobile learning initiative. Turns out much of the “outside-of-class communication with students can be handled via the mobile devices, allowing faculty to deploy their energies on other things,” said a college spokesperson. Just another example of edtech tools increasing flexibility for faculty–in much the same way that video lectures, or coursecasting can do, when profs can’t be at their own lectures due to conference travel and the like.