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Student Engagement of Traditional-Aged Undergraduates using Portable Internet Devices Open Access

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The purpose of this qualitative study was to gain a better understanding of the expectations and experiences of traditional-aged undergraduates as they interacted through portable internet devices (PID) at their institution of higher education (IHE). A Basic interpretive qualitative design was used for this study (Merriam & Associates, 2002; Merriam, 2009). One-on-one interviews were utilized to gather data from 22 students. Interviews were conducted with students from a single institution who lived on campus and owned at least one PID. The data was analyzed using an open thematic analysis (Merriam, 2009) and was guided by Kuh’s (1993) theory of student engagement.Six major findings were identified. First, there has been an emergence of a new digital divide due to the proliferation of these devices. Second, it is important to consider the context of a student’s interactions when trying to engage through PIDs. Third, students have high expectations of their IHE student life and personnel when interacting via PIDs. Fourth, for students, there is continuity of interactions that occur with peers, faculty, staff, and external communities. Fifth, students are conditioned to, and, in fact, expect greater flexibility in planning efforts due to PID use. Lastly, PIDs have enabled a new form of accountability for students, allowing them to set and meet goals.Observations from the study led to seven primary recommendations for practitioners. These recommendations focused on policies and practices IHE personnel can employ to foster engagement most effectively in their students. The implications for practice included that IHE personnel need to: (a) assess how students use PIDS to interact at the IHE, (b) make prudent decisions about communication efforts through PIDs to maximize return on investment, (c) assess continuously in-person situations to ensure maximum engagement from students, (d) provide PIDs to students upon arrival, (e) enhance communication efforts with parents and external communities, (f) integrate accountability and expectation functions on to institutional apps, and (g) develop strategic and tactical plans for engagement through PIDs. Results of the study provided insight into the unique blending of both the physical and virtual worlds of traditional-aged undergraduates through their use of PIDs.

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