Exploring Online Students’ Perceptions of Website Customer Experience

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

This session presents the findings of a 2018 study of incoming graduate students’ perceptions of key features and benefits of competing academic programs and university websites. The session will provide a checklist/diagnostic of websites as customer engagement experiences and an overview of the methodology used for future bespoke applications.

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Presenters

Dr. Neil Hair is the Executive Director of the Innovative Learning Institute, and an Associate Professor of Marketing from the E. Philip Saunders College of Business at RIT. He holds Chartered Marketer Status from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, a PhD from Cranfield as well as degrees from Sheffield and Cardiff Business Schools. His research and consulting activities focuses on relationship marketing, more specifically they include analyzing perceptions of advertising and customer value in popular online social networks like facebook and Pinterest, personal branding in virtual space, virtual ethnography in online worlds, and most recently a Cisco sponsored global study on social media use for collaboration and innovation looking at over 100 of the world’s thought leaders operating in this space. Neil is also passionate about his role as a facilitator and has been awarded five of RIT's teaching awards for excellence including; The Provosts Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2006, the Exemplary Online Faculty Award in 2008, recipient of RIT’s Executive MBA Faculty Recognition Award in 2013, The Saunders College of Business Alumni award for 2014 and RIT's highest teaching honor, The Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2012. His teaching interests have involved developing the world's first program on the commercialization of virtual worlds, and in pedagogy of immersive online student learning experiences. In his role as Executive Director of the ILI he has been tasked with leading RIT’s charge towards innovative teaching practices across the board, promoting faculty awareness of successful innovations, and executing RIT’s online portfolio of learning products.

Extended Abstract

This session presents the findings of a 2018 study of incoming graduate students’ perceptions of key features and benefits of competing academic programs and university websites. The session will provide a checklist/diagnostic of websites as customer engagement experiences and an overview of the methodology used for future bespoke applications.

While much attention has been paid to ideal online customer experience research in retail environments, little has been done t categorize the features and benefits of the student website experience when selecting technical universities for distance learning. By understanding the features and benefits most commonly associated with a positive website interaction at the prospect phase, universities will be better placed to communicate appropriate ‘fit’. This research study reports on the findings of an incoming 2018 cohort of students who made their application decisions primarily based on their website experience. This interactive session will present the findings as well as the methodology used so that attendees can apply the technique when evaluating the web presence of their own and peer institutions.  It will also demonstrate the practical implications of this work in guiding the website design process at both university and program specific levels.

1. Identity common features and benefits of effective web design of academic programs as it relates to features and benefits.

2. Understand the practical aspects of the study’s methodology.

3. Execute similar studies unique to the participant’s home institution.

The session will present key findings of the study using interactive mindmaps to chart key features and benefits. The session will invite the audience to experience the methodology in action by comparing and contrasting competitor institutions.  During this formal comparison, the audience will experience a new survey instrument, which includes findings from the body of literature in learner satisfaction in e-learning as well as online customer experience in e-retail.  During the presentation, we will describe dimensional reduction of root components through common factors analysis and present an examination of internal consistency for the new instrument.  The method is applicable for use in a variety of ways, not just in the evaluation of website quality and not only in institutions of higher ed. It can also be used to explore perceptions of under-represented and/or minority groups. This will be stressed in the interactive session by way of conclusions and areas for additional research.

The methodological approach presented in this session is a novel contribution to the body of research in online education because it explicitly considers the process of the initial website interaction as a customer engagement process for online students.  Finally the session will encourage feedback on participant findings, challenges experienced and ways in which the methodology might be taken back to their home institutions for additional use.

This research furthers ongoing inquiry in perception measurement, online education preferences, and  features and benefits of web-based customer experiences.