Texting: The impact on departmental events to increase student retention

Texting: The impact on departmental events to increase student retention

Kurt K. Hubbard, PhD, OTD, OTR/L
FAOTA Education SIS Chair

Occupational Therapy education is not unlike other programs of study when it comes to the trials and tribulations of student engagement. College educators and administers are constantly trying to find new ways to improve students’ academic performance and retention. Literature demonstrates that brief psychological interventions in education may have a significant positive impact on performance and retention (Yeager & Walton, 2011). Specifically, brief socialpsychological interventions that focus on the way students think, feel, and believe regarding academics, have been shown to improve educational achievement (Cohen, Garcia, Apfel, & Master, 2006; Walton & Cohen, 2011). At multiple sites and disciplines (e.g., psychology undergraduate students, OTA students), the hypothesis that personalized text messages about departmental activities and resources could increase student retention was tested.

Methods: At orientation, 48 students completed a series of questionnaires, provided their cell phone numbers, and agreed to receive text messages about program events, campus resources, college announcements, as well as selective course announcements. Students were randomly assigned into text message conditions, providing a sample of 20 students in the experimental and control conditions. Both conditions received one text every week, but the experimental group texts included the student name to personalize the information in order to make the student feel identified and like they belonged to the department and the college environment (see Table 1 for an example). The messages were sent from a temporary Skype account to provide information and encourage feelings of belongingness and connectedness to the major and college. Following the 12-week semester, participants were asked to complete an online survey, identical to the ones they completed at orientation. In addition, participants were asked about their intentions to continue their program of study and overall enrollment at the college. Participant schedules were reviewed following the 12-week semester to investigate if they returned to their studies.

Results & Discussions: Of the 20 students in the experimental group, 16 (80%) returned. Of the 20 students in the control group, 12 (60%) returned. Of the eight students in the text exclusion group, four returned (50%) – see figure 1. Further analysis of the survey measures is very limited and merely descriptive given the small numbers from each group who completed both pre and post measures. These initial results are promising and suggest a texting intervention program may help increase student retention. Therefore, if the use of text messaging increases student retention, texts and possibly social medial notifications may be used to replace or supplement emails as a form of communication within academic departments. Students appear more likely to read texts than email messages. This study also demonstrates the importance of personally identifying students to increase feelings of inclusion and belongingness. A larger scale investigation is needed as a followup.

Cohen, G. L., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., & Master, A. (2006). Reducing the racial achievement gap: A social-psychological intervention. Science, 313(5791), 1307-1310. doi: 10.1126/science.1128317.
Yeager, D. S. & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 267-301, doi: 10.3102/003465311405999
Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331(6023), 1447-1451. doi:10.1126/science.1198364
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