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The Review of Higher Education 23.3 (2000) 299-318

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Academic and Social Integration in Cyberspace:
Students and E-Mail

Lisa B. Gatz and Joan B. Hirt


Presidential Address

Conceptual models related to the increasingly important issue of student retention have emerged in the past 15 years, and campuses have employed them to provide programs and services designed to enhance student success in college. Two such models have been widely cited in the literature on higher education. The first (Astin, 1984) focuses on student involvement in the campus environment. Essentially, Astin postulates that involvement can be measured by the amount of physical and psychological energy students exert in any given educational endeavor. The model further asserts that involvement can be measured both quantitatively (e.g., the number of hours spent studying for a class) and qualitatively (e.g., how much of that time is spent reading versus contemplating material). The greater the energy expended, the greater the degree of involvement. The greater the degree of involvement, the more likely the student is to persist and succeed in college. [End Page 299]

Closely related to the Astin model is Tinto's (1993) framework. Tinto identifies four factors related to student persistence in college. The first (pre-entry characteristics) includes family background, skills, and attributes developed prior to college along with the students' high school education. The second, institutional characteristics, focuses on the campus in which the student is enrolled (e.g., size, academic offerings). The third characteristic (academic integration) describes the student's academic performance and his or her interactions with faculty and staff. The fourth factor, social integration, focuses on interactions among students and extracurricular activities. The combined effect of these four factors, according to Tinto, contributes to students' persistence in college.

That persistence is explained through three stages of academic and social integration (Tinto, 1993). During the separation stage, the values and norms of families, high school friends, and prior educational settings are challenged by the values and norms of the campus environment. The student's task is to reconcile this dissonance during the second, or transition, stage in which he or she has disassociated himself or herself from the old norms but has not yet adopted new norms that integrate individual goals and commitment to higher education with the programs and services offered in the campus environment. Once those new norms and behaviors have been adopted, students are said to have achieved the third stage in the model, incorporation, meaning the degree to which students are academically and socially integrated into campus life.

Both the Astin (1984) and Tinto (1993) models imply that involvement, or academic and social integration, is closely tied to student behavior. Indeed, instruments widely used to measure academic and social integration have focused primarily on students' behavior. For example, the Student Opinion Survey (SOS) (American College, 1990) is a 42-item instrument which measures the frequency with which students use programs and services on campus and the degree to which they are satisfied with those programs and services. The College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ) (Pace, 1990) consists of 190 items which measure social and intellectual development and involvement. It examines how students spend their time in college and the nature and quality of their activities. The Student Development Task and Lifestyle Inventory (SDTLI) (Winston, Miller, & Prince, 1987) is a 140-item instrument that measures the behaviors in which students engage to achieve purpose, mature relationships, and academic autonomy. Typical items on all three instruments ask students how frequently they meet with faculty outside of classes and how often they spend time with friends and peers in social activities. Such items measure how students spend their time and the degree to which students have achieved academic and social integration. [End Page 300]

While these instruments provide insight into traditional college student behaviors, the proliferation of technology in higher education has changed the ways in which education is delivered to students (Holden & Mitchell, 1993; Kurshan, 1990; Zhu, 1996). For example, administrators use technology not only to admit...


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