Social-Structural Factors and E-Mail Communication with College Students: A National Study of Journalism and Mass Communication Faculty

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INTRODUCTION

Technology is ubiquitous on college campuses across the country. College students expect technology to be a part of their educational experience (Goffe & Sosin, 2005). Generation Next, those who are 18 to 25 years old, have grown up with the Internet, computers and cell phones (The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 2007). They use this technology to e-mail, text message and instant message. College professors use various technologies to communicate with their students, including sending e-mail messages, posting course content online via Blackboard, podcasting lectures or blogging. While there are many ways faculty can electronically communicate with students, this study only considers e-mail communication.

On average, 72 percent of college students check their e-mail at least once a day (Aiken, Vanjani, Ray, & Martin, 2003). Faculty members report receiving twice as many e-mails from students as they initiated and said they responded to 95 percent of these e-mails (Duran, Kelly & Keaten, 2005). The faculty members were most likely to use e-mail to make course announcements, to ask a student to be in contact or to make an appointment (Duran et al., 2005). Faculty indicated they believed students were more likely to use e-mail to make an excuse, to ask questions about a course or to register concern about a grade (Duran et al., 2005).

Duran et al. (2005) found faculty opinions about the use of e-mail as a communication channel are mixed. On the positive side, e-mail offers college professors and students an information channel that can lead to a "richer learning experience, by providing an extra medium for communication" (Hassini, 2006, p. 29). It provides students greater access to faculty members and a student's academic achievement can be positively influenced by a professor incorporating e-mail into the learning process (Yu & Yu, 2002).

However, some feel there are drawbacks to using e-mail as a means of communication between faculty members and students. Professors complain about the casualness of student e-mails making note that students often do not use salutations, but do use slang and computer shorthand (Miller, 2006). Professors also said e-mail has exponentially increased their workload and students often expect instant response; furthermore, e-mail erodes the lines between having a private life and a professional life (Duran et al., 2005; Glater, 2006; Miller, 2006).

Since its inception, researchers have investigated e-mail communication between mass communication and journalism faculty and college students with regard to social-structural factors. These studies have looked at users' age, gender, race and/or ethnicity in relation to their use of digital technology (Benson & Mekolichick, 2007; Crooks, Yang & Duemer, 2003; Duran, Kelly, & Keaten, 2005; Ogan & Chung, 2003; Ong & Lai, 2006; Zarrett & Malanchuk, 2005). Others have studied faculty rank in relation to e-mail communication with students (Xu & Meyer, 2007).

Despite this research, there are no published national studies that specifically examine social-structural factors and the e-mails sent to students by mass communication and journalism faculty. This nationwide study explores how social-structural factors, such as age, race/ethnicity, gender and academic rank, impact how journalism and mass communication faculty communicate with their students via e-mail. Specifically, the study examines the types of e-mails faculty send to their students, the content of those e-mails and differences in the communication based on social-structural factors.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Age and Technology

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (Fox & Madden, 2006) reported e-mail is seen as a basic communication tool and is almost universally used by Internet users no matter their age. Ninety percent of all Internet users send or receive e-mail. …