Interesting article in the Educause Quarterly on using email and the telephone as student retention tools in online courses. The article is here: http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE%2BQuarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/DefeatingtheKobayashiMaruSuppo/219103
I absolutely agree with the author that one-on-one communication with students via email and especially the telephone can increase student retention. I wonder how much though and what the ROI is for the instructor and the institution. Extensive use of the telephone in particular is extremely time-consuming on the part of the instructor. Email is a little less so because it may be possible to standardize the initial emails, however email conversations that continue on beyond that first communication are necessarily individualized and thus time-consuming. More important perhaps is the question of pedagogy, one-on-one conversations with individual students exclude the other students in the class -- as the instructor are you required to have the same or similar conversations with all students in the class? What information or insight is one student receiving that the others are not? When do you go over the line between building the type of relationship that will keep the student enrolled in the class and giving some students an unfair amount of information/insight/time?
Early in the development of online teaching practices instructors moved to the threaded discussion area as the replacement for the face-to-face classroom discussions. All of the students in a class could see the discussions and everyone was able to participate. There is inevitably some distance created by the medium of the threaded discussion, for every student who loves the distance because they get to think about their answers before typing them in, there is at least one who does not feel a part of a learning community and does not feel a responsibility to the class because of that distance.
The telephone might solve some of that initial distance problem. An phone call at the beginning of the term (perhaps not required) might draw in some of the students who would otherwise gradually drop out of the class. It might give them a sense of belonging and responsibility towards the class, keep them involved, and help them complete the course successfully.
I have a role as faculty and also a role as administrator. As both I worry about how much time we can expect adjunct faculty to invest in a class, given the pay rates. As administrator I then wonder if any of this one-on-one interaction with students can be shared with student services. Is the telephone as effective when the call comes from student services or even from a vendor? What if we looked at class data and chose who to call and when based on something like number or schedule of logins or another class participation measure?