Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Brandi Frisby


Drawing from over a decade of research, it can be said with relative certainty what millennial learners expected of their instructors when they were in the college classroom. But what about the expectations and needs of our current group of students, Generation Z? Because few studies exist on Gen Z in higher education spaces, this dissertation establishes a baseline of what these students might need and expect from market and generational research on this group of students and establishes expectancy violations theory as a sound theoretical base for instructional research. This dissertation’s longitudinal, two-phase study, then, seeks to determine Gen Z students’ expectations of their instructors’ communication behaviors (i.e., credibility, rapport, confirmation, digital literacy) in the college classroom and examined the impact that violations of these expectations can have on these students’ levels of engagement. Findings suggest that Gen Z students expected a moderate level of rapport and high levels of credibility, confirmation, and digital literacy; credibility and confirmation expectations were significantly negatively violated, while digital literacy expectations were significantly positively violated. Additional findings demonstrate that Gen Z students whose instructors met or positively violated expectations reported higher engagement than those with negatively violated expectations. Implications for instructors and administrators, as well as implications for further use of expectancy violations theory, are included, such as the suggestion that instructors need to focus on tailoring their instruction to the specific needs and expectations of Gen Z students, who differ greatly from generations past.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)