Measuring habits for success

National Survey of Student Engagement available now

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

How many times have you met with a faculty member? How many times have you participated in a study group? In order for the university to know what services are working, it needs to know which ones successful students use. That’s where you come in.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) allows first- and fourth-year on-campus baccalaureate students to express their educational habits, from academic advising to use of technology.

NSSE is an internationally administered survey, with over 3,000 schools participating since its launch in 2000. TRU first participated in 2008 and made the survey available every year until 2011 to collect an accurate base of data. Now the survey is only administered every three years to first- and fourth-year students, in coordination with other Canadian universities.

Because so many universities participate, Maclean’s and the Globe and Mail often use the results for their university guides.

But, why is it important for students to participate?

“Otherwise we’re just guessing,” said dean of students Christine Adam. “Otherwise we’re only listening to the students who show up at things.”

NSSE asks students about their behaviours, the frequency of behaviours that are related to things that successful students do, and looks at educational practices that are related to engagement.

“NSSE is a survey that reports what students do. It’s not a satisfaction survey. It’s not an opinion survey,” Adam said. “It’s looking at actual behaviours.”

If you could start over again, would you go to the same institution you are now attending? From the National Survey of Student Engagement 2011 general report. Used with permission from TRU institutional planning and analysis

If you could start over again, would you go to the same institution you are now attending? From the National Survey of Student Engagement 2011 general report. Used with permission from TRU institutional planning and analysis

Dorys Crespin-Mueller, from institutional planning and analysis, said the results are presented to multiple stakeholder groups on campus including TRUSU, the student engagement sub-committee of the senate and the senate itself.

The survey questions combine to create five benchmarks: active and collaborative learning, focusing on student participation in learning; enriching educational experiences, including study abroad and foreign languages; student-faculty interaction, focusing on one-on-one teaching; level of academic challenge, such as writing and course challenge; and supportive campus environment, including student services and relationships on campus.

In 2011, first-year benchmarks tended to be below the national average, while fourth-year benchmarks were above average.

“Because the results are actually tied to a student, we can correlate responses to how that student is doing, whether they show up again next year, what program they’re in,” Adam said. “We can look at programs where we see students not participating in what we call ‘high impact’ practices.”

Although the survey doesn’t rank schools, TRU can look at schools that yield significantly higher benchmarks and see what they do differently, Adam said.

There are also questions on overall satisfaction: how would you evaluate your entire educational experience at this institution? And if you could start again would you go to the same institution you are attending?

“Those are pretty key questions for students to reflect on their choice of institution and their experience that they are currently having,” Mueller said.

In 2011, first- and fourth-year students rated TRU above the national average in terms of their educational experience. First-year students fell below the national average for answering yes to whether they would choose TRU again, while fourth-year students responded in favour of attending TRU again more often than the national average.

This year intuitional planning and analysis worked with the student engagement committee to select two additional sections that evaluate academic advising and learning technology. And yes, there is a section where students can freely express the best and worse things about their educational experience at TRU in paragraph form.

As of March 4, eight per cent of the 2,900 eligible students had responded to the survey.

“So far we have not as high of a response rate as we would like,” Mueller said.

Institutional planning and analysis is aiming for around 40 per cent of the eligible students to respond. In 2008, the response rate was close to 44 per cent but by 2011 it dropped to 23 per cent.

“We want a good response rate so that the feedback represents the student body, that what we’re hearing is in fact a reflection of the student experience at TRU,” Mueller said. “The more students that can participate, the better that representation will be.”

Eligible students will receive weekly reminders asking them to participate until the survey closes on April 11.

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