This paper addresses a local problem of practice at Arizona State University regarding the support for potentially underprepared students. The overarching goal of this study was to better understand the role rapport plays in student achievement. This study examines how the LEAD Project (Learn, Explore, Advance, Design), in particular student relationships with instructors and their peers, may or may not influence student achievement. LEAD students complete three courses as a group – Introduction to Human Communication (COM 100), Critical Reading and Thinking (UNI 110), and The LEAD Project (ASU 150). The innovation was designed to give students the opportunity to build relationships with their instructors and with each other, so class sizes are limited to 40 students. Additionally, instructors work together outside of class to develop curriculum, instructional plans, and how to best support individual students.
Guiding literature for this study included Self-Determination Theory (SDT) as well as related studies (Deci & Flaste, 1995). This theory describes human motivation as a factor of the extent to which one feels autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Though relevant in many contexts, past researchers used SDT as a tool for understanding students’ motivation to learn (Black & Deci, 2000; Freiberger, Steinmayr, & Spinath, 2012; Reeve & Jang, 2006).
The study used a concurrent mixed-method action research design including interviews, questionnaires, and institutional data. Over 400 first-year students participated in the study. Students shared their perceptions of their rapport with their instructors and peers, and their perceived learning in each of the three LEAD courses.
Data were analyzed using correlation and linear regression approaches. Significant relations occurred between many instructor-student rapport scales, peer rapport, perceived learning, and course grades. Additionally, instructor-student rapport scales significantly predicted perceived learning.
Qualitative and quantitative findings were aligned with each other, and were consistent with previous studies. This study advances the body of knowledge about instructor-student rapport by extending the findings around its role in student achievement. Results also suggested the need to further explore the role of peer rapport and its influence on student achievement. Results from the study show instructor-student rapport was mediators of student achievement.