Community College Student Preferences for Support When Classes Go Online: Does Techno-Capital Shape Student Decisions?

Community College Student Preferences for Support When Classes Go Online: Does Techno-Capital Shape Student Decisions?

William Hamilton, Gabriela Hamilton
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8992-2.ch004
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As colleges and universities shifted the bulk of their classes online in response to COVID-19, there was also a concomitant shift in how students could be supported by institutions. Yet, very little is known about the support networks that students tap into when confronted with such change, and there is reason to believe that students' ability to access and benefit from online support structures—and the social connections they make—might be moderated by their digital skills and competencies. The purpose of this chapter is to better understand what support networks students preferred to access when classes moved online, and whether techno-capital, a measure of digital skills and knowledge, influenced these choices. This chapter summarizes research findings from multivariate regression models that used student data collected from a community college in the USA, just after the classes migrated online. The chapter concludes with recommendations based on this research.
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The spread of Covid-19 has created a health crisis that has affected the delivery systems of higher education in unprecedented ways. By spring of 2020, American college students—many of whom have never taken a distance education course—were thrust into online learning; by the beginning of the next academic year, online learning had already become the default mode of delivery (Gallagher & Palmer, 2020). While the scholarly literature on this particular moment of time is accumulating in academic journals across most major fields of research, very little is known about how the shift to online learning has affected the ways in which community college students utilize their support systems, nor how existing digital inequalities might influence patterns of utilization. And although calls to quickly shift colleges’ student services online (e.g., Hu, 2020) have been valiantly met by student affairs professionals across the United States, as described in other chapters of this edited volume, decades of digital divide literature suggest that access does not necessarily equate to use, and that usage is likely moderated by digital skills and competencies (van Dijk, 2006). Moreover, this same literature suggests that differences in online skills are often associated with the degree to which individuals benefit from online interactions and engagement (Mossberger, Tolbert, & Stansbury, 2003).

The study presented in this chapter attempts to shed light on this topic by examining the networks of support utilized by college students at one community college, and by exploring how students’ techno-capital—a specific form of cultural capital that helps facilitate effective use of information technologies (Lee & Chen, 2017)—shapes students’ reliance upon formal, rather than informal, forms of support. Here, formal sources of support include faculty, advisors, and classmates—sources of support that are only available via students’ association with the institution; on the other hand, informal sources of support include family and friends, or self-reliance. It is important to note that our research makes no judgement as to the merits of one form of support over the other. Informal support systems, such as friends and family, have been shown to be crucial to the success of community college students (Moschetti, & Hudley, 2015), and these sources of support are likely to be crucial in the given context. Additionally, decades of scholarly research have demonstrated the importance of engagement with formal support systems for college student success, as well, and students’ interactions with faculty, staff, and classmates, serve as a central pillar of the integration process (Tinto, 1975; Tinto, 1993). The focus of the current research is on understanding how digital skills, knowledge, and competencies, might influence how these two different information and support channels are engaged by students, particularly with respect to common issues and challenges that college students are most likely to encounter.

Although we do know, based on recent studies, that college students with higher levels of techno-capital tend to have much stronger networking skills (Lee & Chen, 2017), we cannot assume that broad networking skills translate universally to the mobilization of formal and informal support systems in an online college context. It is possible, if not likely, that the efficacy of online student support services—many of which are now emerging in this new form for the first time, in response to Covid-19—may very well be dependent on students’ digital competencies and skills. Thus, gaining a better understanding of this relationship through an empirical analysis of data is timely.

To summarize, by sharing the results of our empirical investigation, this chapter intends to accomplish two objectives: First, shed light on who online college students turn to for support, particularly when courses are suddenly delivered online; and secondly, provide a better understanding of how digital competencies (i.e., techno-capital) influence these decisions. A broader goal of this endeavor is to help faculty, administrators, and researchers, better understand the support-seeking behaviors of online students, in order to strengthen the efficacy of support initiatives inside and outside of the classroom.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Formal Sources of Support: In this chapter, formal sources of support include college classmates, faculty, and advisors—these are forms of support that are a product of a connection to the institution (e.g., the college or university).

Techno-Competency: Refers to an individual’s capability and skillset that enables them to use technology effectively, leveraging critical thinking and evaluation skills, verbal literacy, and acquired knowledge about internet-connected technologies.

Informal Sources of Support: In this chapter, informal sources of support include friends and family, as well as reliance on oneself—these are forms of support that are not reliant upon a connection to the institution (e.g., the college or university).

Networking Skills: Refers to a person’s abilities and skills in establishing and leveraging personal connections for some form of benefit (e.g., social, economic, informational, etc.).

Cultural Capital: Refers to a person’s knowledge of, and competence in, cultural practices that are usually associated with, or reflective of, dominant culture. Like other forms of capital, cultural capital is a resource that is cultivated and transmitted through the socialization process, and often passed down generationally.

Social Capital: Refers to a stock of resources that individuals acquire through their social connections, which generates personal benefits (e.g., social, economic, informational, etc.). Like other forms of capital, social capital is a resource that is cultivated and transmitted through the socialization process, and often passed down generationally.

Digital Cultural Production: An aspect of techno-capital, digital cultural production refers to activities of creating and sharing original content online, typically through social media platforms.

Techno-Capital: Refers to a specific form of cultural capital that facilitates meaningful use of information technologies.

Support Areas: In this chapter, support areas refer to a set of issues and challenges that college students commonly face, that require some form of support (even support that comes via self-reliance). This includes understanding difficult homework assignments and questions, for example.

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