Survey to determine university strengths, weaknesses

The National Survey of Student Engagement participation requests were sent to a sample of Marshall University freshman and senior students February. Students will receive a reminder to fill out the survey March 10.

The NSSE is a national survey that allows participating universities to gauge the levels of student learning and engagement on campus by surveying a sample of students.

Mary Beth Reynolds, associate vice president for assessment and quality initiatives, said the survey presents a couple of advantages to Marshall University. Reynolds said the university has been participating in the survey since 2008, so they have been able to look at changes across time and the NSSE was one of the indicators the university used to develop the core curriculum.

Since the core curriculum has been established, Reynolds said NSSE results have helped the university gauge if it is seeing differences in student responses. Reynolds said NSSE results have shown two changes overtime, one being improvements in the area of active and collaborative learning and the other being improvements in the level of academic challenge.

In current NSSE results, Reynolds said the university has shown a weakness in campus environment, specifically in quality of interactions with other students, compared to institutions similar to Marshall University.

“When you find a weakness here, the next thing you need to do is drill down, which we do, to try and figure out where is that coming from,” Reynolds said.

Director of Student Activities and Greek Affairs Andy Hermansdorfer said student affairs also looks through NSSE data to see what information applies to extracurricular activities, co-curricular activities and anything that involves what goes on outside the classroom.

Hermansdorfer said student affairs does its own survey in satisfaction information and learning outcomes evaluations. Hermansdorfer said he noticed the student affairs survey results were similar to the 2015 NSSE results that determined Marshall students were less satisfied with their interactions with other students than the national average.

“It was just interesting from two different areas that we’re getting there’s something that we can improve on when it comes to students and their interaction with other students,” Hermansdorfer said.

Hermansdorfer said one program they have implemented in two different groups is education in confrontation skills and practice with those skills. Hermansdorfer said he has done this with the John Marshall Emerging Leaders Institute, a campus organization for freshman and sophomores, to provide them with the skills and the practice to have healthy confrontation conversations and results.

Hermansdorfer said he has also done this with the fraternities and sororities leadership course, where students go on a retreat for three days in the fall in Ripley, West Virginia. This year, for at least an hour and a half during the trip, students practiced confrontation skills.

Reynolds said the university is not just using NSSE to see how great it is, but are using the results to identify problems.

“We’re also looking at it to see if there are issues that we can identify and if there are then we take that information and we try to do something with it to make things better,” Reynolds said.

In the 2013, 2014 and 2015 NSSE survey results, freshman students reported weaknesses in participation in learning communities and in service learning during their freshman year. But for senior students, those areas reported strengths.

Reynolds said a national study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities in conjunction with NSSE found the top high impact practices for universities include service learning, learning communities and research with faculty. Reynolds said this information along with the Marshall University NSSE results informed a high impact practice learning community project the university did this academic year with First Year Seminar and a paired class. The results from this project are still being analyzed.

Reynolds said overall the NSSE shows students at Marshall University are positively engaged and the strengths do outweigh the weaknesses.

“I would just encourage students to do NSSE,” Reynolds said. “To my mind, this is one of the more powerful things that we do, because it does allow us to compare ourselves nationally. It does give us very specific actionable information.”

Reynolds said Marshall University is here for students and the faculty, staff and administration has a commitment to provide students with the very best education and overall experience they can have at Marshall. But Reynolds said it is important students let them know how they are doing and NSSE is a powerful way to do so.

“This is just one piece of information that lets us know to what extent they are engaged and learning on campus,” Reynolds said. “And it’s through their voices then that we get information that we can take to help improve their experience.”

Reynolds said the NSSE gives students an opportunity to be actively involved in making things better within the university.

Students chosen to participate in the survey received an email notice February 23 and received a reminder March 2. The third reminder will go out March 10 and subsequent reminders will be sent March 31 and April 12.

On April 13, there will be a prize drawing for those who completed the NSSE. Prizes include two iPad minis and eight $50 Marshall University Bookstore gift cards.

Amanda Gibson can be contacted at [email protected].