An inquiry into migrant students' use of an electronic communication system
Martha Connell Meacham, The University of Texas at Austin, United States
The University of Texas at Austin . Awarded
Traditionally, the children of migrant laborers have been at-risk to drop out of school. Federally-funded migrant programs have assisted migrant children in their pursuit of an education. Recently, migrant educators have looked toward electronic communications and distance learning to address the educational needs of migrant children. This study examined students' perceptions of, reactions to and online interactions with each other using an electronic message system. The focus of this research, which followed the principles of naturalistic inquiry, was to discover migrant students' purposes and perspectives for using computers to communicate.
Seven college migrant students volunteered to correspond electronically with ten migrant middle school students. A middle school teacher and migrant education tutor also volunteered to be part of this program. Several of the college students had participated in a notebook-based penpal project and had been mentors to younger students in the community. I selected the college students because of their interest in mentoring. The middle school students were selected by the migrant education tutor because of their interest in using computers. I wanted to know how participants would perceive mentoring experiences in a computer-mediated environment. Students had access to a bulletin board system (BBS) with asynchronous private electronic mail (e-mail) and an asynchronous public conference area. The BBS also had a chat feature that permitted realtime conversations. Seven middle school students' and three college students' case studies comprise the final report, along with comparison and contrast across and among case themes.
The study's findings were related to how and why students established social relationships online and their perceptions of their interactions within a computer-mediated environment. For example, all students preferred synchronous communication to e-mail and conference postings because of the realtime nature of the interaction, making the exchange more like a face-to-face dialogue than letter-writing. This research yielded insiders' views of the implementation of an electronic message system. There may be instances when findings from this study may have applications in other, similar contexts.
Meacham, M.C. An inquiry into migrant students' use of an electronic communication system. Ph.D. thesis, The University of Texas at Austin.
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