Survey seeks academic snapshot

Survey to improve “educational experience”

karen herland

For the first time, Concordia will participate along with 600 other North American universities and colleges in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

“This is a theoretically justifiable and valid way to measure university quality and performance,” said Bradley Tucker, who is the senior analyst of academic planning in the Office of the Provost. This conceptual and statistical rigour is not necessarily found in many of the newspaper-commissioned polls and academic rankings published throughout the year.

The NSSE was established by a private trust in 1999 to provide participating institutions with an independent measure of student satisfaction with their academic experience.

The 20-minute online survey assesses student satisfaction in five areas: level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interactions, enriching educational experience and supportive campus environment.

The key to the success of the initiative is student participation. Tucker’s office has used a series of criteria to find students “in all walks of life” who fall into two distinct categories: those finishing their first year at Concordia, and those with enough completed credits to graduate this year. Within each category, students have been selected to ensure that the faculties, campuses, and other characteristics of Concordia are adequately represented.

The NSSE offices will randomly select 2,500 students in each category next month. Each student will be asked to participate in the survey with an email invitation from President Lajeunesse.

Tucker is counting on an 80 per cent return rate to ensure accurate and useful results. The Concordia Student Union supports the project and has been working closely with Tucker to ensure the goal is met.

Each participating institution predetermines what information they want to examine through the survey’s standardized questions. The initial numbers are crunched at Indiana University by the team that administrates the survey, and then the numbers are returned to the participating institutions for their own use.

“It’s a treasure-trove of data that will help us understand how students view their academic experience. We intend to translate these data into real change.” Tucker said.

The administration team also provides information on how best to use the results. The results can then be compared against benchmarks of all participating schools, similar institutions, nearby institutions or in any other way that will prove useful.

“Our academic plan is designed to move us forward; these results will help us measure our progress toward providing even better overall educational experiences for our students,” said Martin Singer, Provost and Vice-President, Academic Affairs.

Nearly 1,000 institutions have participated in this survey since its inception. Tucker said it is not economically viable to participate year after year, because “institutional change is a process that requires patience.”

However, the opinion of a cross-section of 4,000 to 5,000 students — on everything from whether they were able to do internships or lead classroom discussions, to how quickly they were able to get feedback from professors on assignments and whether the university offered non-academic support — should help set the course for that change.