New Media Tools Impact on Online, Health Science Students’ Academic Persistence and Support: Lessons Learned from Two Pilot Studies

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New media communication tools used in health science education may help enhance student engagement and sense of community, improve retention and persistence, and provide a richer academic experience, but the research is limited on non-traditional online learners. The studies described here therefore, focus on fully online, undergraduate health science students. Study 1 examined if the use of new media tools - EZ Texting, Adobe Connect, and an eCampus community - had a significant effect on students’ persistence/retention, importance to being connected to faculty and other students, sense of community, and satisfaction with the program and the university. Study 2 evaluated if the use of the communication technology, Celly, increased online undergraduate health science students’ feelings of connectedness with the instructor. Study 1 was a pre-test, post-test quasi-experimental design with a volunteer sample of 15 students. In Study 2, ninety students received Celly communication throughout a six week course while the control group (n = 338) did not receive any text communication. Both groups received a pre-test and post-test. In Study 1, the use of EZ Texting, Adobe Connect, and eCampus did not have any statistically significant results due to a combination of factors; however, in the experimental group there was an increase in participants’ belief that the new media tools can create a sense of community and foster an increase in the feeling of closeness to other students and faculty. In Study 2, feelings of connectedness to the instructor varied over time with no statistically significant results, but valuable insight was gained through qualitative feedback. Although new media tools did not have any statistically significant results, students did feel more connected and supported in an online learning environment.