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

Roediger Voss, Thorsten Gruber, Alexander Reppel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This paper aims to explore 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. A total of 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 per cent) filled in the online CIT questionnaire than male students (48 per cent). 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 ten quality dimensions of professors, corroborating previous research in this area. Research limitations/implications: Owing 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 paper was the first to successfully apply an online version of the CIT techniques to the issue of higher education services. This paper 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. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-636
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Management
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Academic staff
  • Critical incident technique
  • Customer services quality
  • Higher education
  • Students


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