Students asked to speak up for survey

(Edmonton) In an effort to get an accurate look at student engagement across campus, University of Alberta administrators are encouraging students to fill out the National Survey of Student Engagement that will be delivered to email inboxes Feb. 15.

The survey, which will be distributed on campus to approximately 11,000 first- and fourth-year students, collects information at hundreds of four-year colleges and universities throughout North America about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development. The results provide an estimate of how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending universities and colleges. The survey makes it possible for the U of A to track positive change over an extended length of time while tracking engagement at like institutions, based on size, enrolment and other criteria.

Frank Robinson, U of A’s dean of students, is encouraging participation in the survey, and wants to hear about where students have found the university has been successful in meeting their needs, as well as areas for growth.

“We want to know how we did as a yardstick compared to three years ago when we last participated in the study,” said Robinson. “We also want to hear from students about things we’ve done right, and things we could be doing better, to make their experience on campus one that’s about more than just academics.”

When the survey was last conducted in 2008, says Robinson, the U of A’s results were similar to other big Canadians school, although there was some room for improvement.

In the year that followed, the U of A created the Task Force on Student Engagement, which took a hard look at the NSSE results, which validated the school’s push for improving co-curricular activities.“Students being involved in clubs, in residences, campus athletics and big events like the recent world’s largest dodge-ball game are all really important examples of student-engagement initiatives,” says Robinson, and that the classroom side of university life has also come under the microscope.

As faculty search for ways to better connect with all students, some tools are already in place, like the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, as well as interdisciplinary classes like Science 100 and the highly popular “There’s a Heifer in Your Tank” program, which Robinson says will undoubtedly be reflected in the upcoming NSSE survey results.

“We are really raising the profile on campus that the U of A is more that a university where students sit back and passively take notes, write term papers and exams,” he said. “These survey scores are actually higher if students are engaged in their learning and discussion, in the class and out.”

Regardless of the survey results, however, Robinson says the motive for student engagement is about making the university experience a positive one for all.

“We encourage engagement to improve student retention and satisfaction,” said Robinson. “It is one thing to recruit a student, but it’s another to provide all the successful steps to graduation.”

For more information on the NSSE, go to http://nsse.iub.edu/html/about.cfm .

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