Characteristics of successful student-faculty interaction outside the classroom
Student-faculty interaction, including contact outside the classroom, is one of the most important factors in undergraduate student motivation and performance. In engineering, both students and faculty have limited time due to rigorous curricula and research expectation, and so may not prioritize contact outside the classroom. However, particularly in multidisciplinary courses, this contact may be critical to help students with various backgrounds learn the course material. Fusani3, through an applied communication approach, studied the salient characteristics of out-of- class student-faculty interaction. We build upon this framework by investigating the impact of student-faculty interaction outside the classroom in a variety of courses in a multidisciplinary engineering program. Our purpose is to identify qualities of successful student-faculty interaction to help both students and faculty optimize their contact outside the classroom. Our study focused on three courses within the general engineering curriculum: Statics, Physics III, and Signals and Systems. Total enrollment in these courses is about 50 students, with each course spanning various engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical, computer). We kept a detailed log of student-faculty interaction outside the classroom, including the frequency and duration of each contact. We also classified the nature of each interaction according to certain distinguishing 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 the board, and whether the interaction took place within schedule office hours. We then examined the relationship between these characteristics and the students' performance in the class, as measured by their grade. Students engaging in more than 10 visits during the 15-week semester had significantly higher grades than students engaging in 5-10 visits (p=0.011) or less than 5 visits (p<0.001). Of the top students (grades more than 0.5 standard deviations above the mean), 80% interacted with faculty outside the classroom more than once, with 37% interacting more than five times. This interaction was characterized by an average frequency of 7.6 visits (about 1 visit every 2 weeks), an average length of 10 minutes, an average total time of 80 minutes during the semester, about 6 emails during the semester, with written work about 30% of the time, group visits 40% of the time, with visits occurring an average of 1.3 days before an assignment is due, and outside scheduled office hours 70% of the time. For the struggling students (grades more than 0.5 standard deviations below the mean), only 14% interacted with faculty outside the classroom more than five times. The factor that best correlated with students' performance was frequency of contact, followed by total interaction time. Factors not correlated with student performance were average length of visit, number of emails, and number of days before the assignment due date. With respect to discipline, the undecided students were less likely to have contact. With respect to gender, female students appeared to have a greater increase in grade with more interaction. With respect to year, the youngest students (sophomores) were the least likely to visit, with more than 50% having only one or fewer visits outside the classroom. These results can help tailor student-faculty interaction outside of class. © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education.