Essential encounters: A study of university students' out-of-classroom interactions with academic staff

Year: 1997

Author: DiGregorio, Kristie Daniel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research has shown that a majority of students' university experience and learning fall outside the boundaries of the classroom. Student outcomes research suggests that when students spend time outside of class with academic staff, that the effects of those interactions can span a lifetime, eg, by significantly effecting intellectual and personal development.

Less is known about what draws students into out-of-class interactions with academic staff in the first place and what meaning the interactions have for students. In this study, eighteen students from an American research university participated in a series of intensive, qualitative interviews on 1) the factors that encourage or discourage out-of-classroom interactions between students and academic staff, 2) the qualities that make these interactions meaningful for students, and 3) the outcomes students report from the interactions.

Many of the factors that encourged or discouraged interaction outside of class related to the size of classes and to academic staff members' roles as teachers, so classrooms have important implications for the likelihood of out-of-classroom interactions. A common theme among meaningful out-of-class interactions was that they extended beyond an exchange of information which could have occurred in the classroom. Students reported that these interactions affected them in important ways, by improving their academic performance, enhancing their self-image and making staff seem more "human".

This study offers the first in-depth exploration of students' views of how students and academic staff navigate the initial distance between them to interact outside of class. It articulates for the first time

what meaning those interactions have for students. Finally, it illuminates the outcomes that students attribute to these interactions, interactions that have been highlighted by correlational research as positively influencing students' intellectual and personal development.