Which classroom service encounters make students happy or unhappy?: insights from an online CIT study

Purpose – This paper explores satisfactory and dissatisfactory student-professor encounters in higher education from a student’s perspective. The critical incident technique (CIT) is used to categorise positive and negative student-professor interactions and to reveal quality dimensions of professors. Design/methodology/approach – An exploratory study using an online application of the well established CIT method was conducted. The study took place at a large European university. 96 students took part in the study on a voluntary basis and reported 164 incidents. Respondents were aged between 19 and 24 years (X=23.2) and slightly more female students (52%) filled in the online CIT questionnaire than male students (48%). On average, every student provided 1.7 incidents. Findings – The results of the critical incident sorting process support previous classification systems that used three major groups to thoroughly represent the domain of (un)satisfactory student-professor encounters. The results of the CIT study also revealed 10 quality dimensions of professors, corroborating previous research in this area. Research limitations/implications – Due to the exploratory nature of the study and the scope and size of its student sample, the results outlined are tentative in nature. The research study also only investigates the experiences of one stakeholder group. Practical implications – Gaining knowledge of students’ classroom experiences should be beneficial for professors to design their teaching programmes. Based on the results, universities might consider the introduction of student contracts or student satisfaction guarantees to manage student expectations effectively. Originality/value – The study was the first to successfully apply an online version of the CIT techniques to the issue of higher education services. This study shows that the CIT method is a useful tool for exploring student-professor encounters in higher education. The paper has hopefully opened up an area of research and methodology that could reap considerable further benefits for researchers interested in this area.