Monday, March 8, 2010

Survey measures student engagement

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Freshmen and seniors at Saint Mary’s University will have the chance to participate in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

The survey is completely anonymous. Students are asked a variety of questions about their learning experiences, including what types and lengths of papers they write, how often they work in groups or discussions, whether the campus environment supports their learning, whether faculty is accessible outside of class and if they plan to study abroad or participate in an internship. One sample question from this year’s survey asks the student, “To what extent does your institution emphasize providing the support you need to help you succeed academically?”

The NSSE also has a brief section regarding the university’s Catholic mission. The individual answers are categorized into five benchmarks: The level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experience and supporting campus environment.

Barlow said the results act as a barometer to figure out where SMU stands in comparison to other schools and where the university needs to improve. Barlow stresses the importance of student participation. “My fear is that there are a few surveys floating out there, and we recognize people can feel overloaded,” said Barlow. “But SMU tries to use these results to improve things and help us understand what issues we need to address on campus.”

The NSSE started in 1999 and has been offered at SMU in 2001, ’02, ’04, ’07 and now ’10. “We hope to get in a cycle for studying data from freshman to senior year,” said Barlow. Such a cycle would allow SMU to see how the school is doing a student’s first year and then,in his or her senior year, check to see if the school has acted to maintain the student’s strengths.

“We score high in a number of areas,” said Barlow. “But in order to get the best information, we’d like as many students to complete the survey as possible.”

The NSSE was sent out via email on Feb. 1, and reminders will continue through March and April. Students can complete the entire survey online in around 15-20 minutes.

“It is not labor intensive,” said Barlow. Students who complete the survey will have a shot at one of 30 $10 bookstore gift certificates.

Besides the NSSE, Barlow also assesses faculty and departments to understand the impact our classes and campus have on student learning, including what to improve in courses and majors.

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