The 1st year message: what memorable messages are 1st year tertiary students receiving at university? What is the impact of these messages on the student’s engagement and learning?

Year: 2013

Author: Wyvill, Janet, Donnison, Sharn, Carey, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper presents the preliminary results of the pilot study conducted at the University of the Sunshine Coast, which investigated the memorable messages, that first year education students reported that they receive. The investigation looked at the questions “What are the memorable messages received by first year students?” and “How are these memorable messages impacting the first year students’ engagement and learning?”

Memorable messages are defined as ‘‘verbal messages which may be remembered for extremely long periods of time and which people perceive as a major influence on the course of their lives’’ (Knapp, Stohl & Reardon 1981, p. 27). Memorable messages involve brief prescriptive oral commands (Knapp et al., 1981) that often come from an authority figure (Ellis & Smith, 2004). “Some interpersonal messages are reported to be remembered for a long time and to have a profound influence on a person’s life” (Knapp et. al., 1981 p27).

Communication and non-communication will intentionally and unintentionally create memorable messages. These memorable messages being received by the students impact on their decision to continue with their program at USC, to transfer or leave university. Attrition rates for new students are high and this pilot project aimed to discover if any memorable messages were contributing to this factor.

The role of universities is changing from simply educating students, to preparing them for work and professional roles (Cranmer, 2006; Dochy et al, 1999; Barr & Tagg, 1995). Higgen, Hartley & Skelton (2002) discuss the idea that students should now be seen as consumers of University services rather than just students gaining information.  This combined with the high level of consumer communication indicates the question ‘are the memorable messages the staff wish to provide actually being received by the students?’ is an essential area in need of investigation.

USC’s approach to student retention is based on Tinto & Pusser’s (2006) five overarching conditions (pillars/principles) that Universities can provide that contribute to student success. The five pillars are:
1. Commitment
2. Expectations
3. Support
4. Feedback
5. Involvement

A mixed method approach was adopted to gather both quantitative and qualitative data.  This approach focused on the memorable messages received by the students; the impact of these messages; and the implication of these messages on engagement and retention of first year students. The messages were discovered through the mixed method of survey and focus groups. Data collection was carried out as follows:

Quantitative                  Survey of first year Education students
Comparison with the previous USC Student Experience Survey
Qualitative                     Focus group interviews
Individual interviews
Observations of lectures

The preliminary results show the patterns and categories that the memorable messages fall into.  The results also discuss the memorable messages that impact significantly on learning and engagement.