Examining predictors of undergraduate engagement in online health education
Andrade, Craig Steven
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Introduction: How college undergraduates manage challenges with alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, stress, sleep, exercise, and diet can shape their current and future health habits and status. Health risk behaviors can result in outcomes that damage lives, threaten individual academic success, and jeopardize college retention. Online health education (e-Health) is an emerging intervention modality that offers cost-effective mass delivery of health information, with the potential for broad benefits. Questions remain regarding levels of student engagement with e-Health programs and the influence of demographic and personality traits on engagement. The purpose of this dissertation is to identify effective methods for measuring undergraduate engagement with health education websites and to assess differential website engagement and associated student characteristics. Methods: This study used a multi-method design involving all class years of full-and part-time students (18-24 years) at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. One hundred thirty-eight of the original209 study volunteers completed the baseline survey, accessed the study website, MyStudentBody (MSB), during the nine-week viewing period, and completed the post-engagement survey. Major categories of measurement included baseline measures of sociodemographic and psychobehavioral characteristics (predictor variables) and subsequent measures of website engagement including MSB utilization tracking data, and website engagement surveys (outcome variables). Cohorts of study and non-study students participated in post-study focus group discussions. Results: Findings showed rapidly declining website engagement over the nine-week access period and significant student non-engagement overall, despite regular use of incentive offers and email prompts. Quantitative findings showed no significant statistical associations between predictor and outcome measures. Qualitative data presented recurrent themes including factors that discouraged and encouraged participant e-Health program use. Conclusion: Further study is necessary to examine the potential predictors of undergraduate engagement in online health education. Study focus groups revealed patterns of student behaviors, beliefs, and preferences that can help explain content avoidance and point to student-centered strategies that can improve engagement in MSB and similar e-Health products.
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