Attention freshmen and seniors: “Nessie” wants you.
No, not the mysterious and elusive inhabitant of Loch Ness, but the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which shares the nickname.
The 2018 survey, which runs through April 6, asks members of the Class of 2018 and Class of 2021 to assess their classwork, their campus interactions, and the University’s overall learning environment.
The survey gauges the time and effort students put into their studies and other educational activities and how they assess the University’s efforts to help them learn. NSSE conducts the survey annually, but BU has elected to participate every other year to allow adequate time to assess the results and determine ways to improve the University’s overall learning environment.
“The NSSE provides useful data on student perceptions of academic challenge, learning with peers, experiences with faculty, and the campus environment,” says Gillian Pierce, assistant provost for academic assessment. “We can compare student responses internally across majors and also outside of BU to see how our results compare with peer institutions. We can break results down by discipline, so that academic programs can use the reports as part of their ongoing assessment of student learning and engagement, and the broader results tell us where our strengths and weaknesses are so we know what to focus on campuswide.”
The online survey, which takes about 15 minutes to complete, asks students to answer questions such as how often during the current school year they have contributed to class discussions, combined ideas from different courses when completing assignments, and learned something that changed the way they understand an issue or concept. It also asks how often they’ve engaged in discussions with people from racial groups, economic backgrounds, or political beliefs different than their own, and how often they’ve participated in campus or cocurricular activities, community service, or work for pay, on or off campus.
“In developing the BU Hub, the Task Force on General Education used the NSSE data from the 2016 survey to help us understand what BU is doing well in terms of engaging students in a challenging academic program and what needs improvement,” says Elizabeth Loizeaux, associate provost for undergraduate affairs and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English. “One thing we learned is that BU students report significantly more ‘discussion with diverse others’ than students at other private research universities. The Task Force took a step to build on that in creating the BU Hub’s ‘Diversity, Civic Engagement and Global Citizenship’ requirement.”
Loizeaux says that the NSSE findings are taken seriously by BU faculty and administrators. For example, the 2014 survey showed that both freshmen and seniors rated academic advising significantly lower than average. “Members of the Advising Network used responses to the NSSE questions about academic advising to dig into the student experience with advising, college by college, school by school,” Loizeaux says. “That research informed the plans that each school and college has developed for advancing academic advising over the next few years.”
In 2016, BU’s overall participation rate was 52 percent (56 percent of first-year students; 49 percent of seniors), compared to a national average participation rate of just 29 percent. The hope is for an even better turnout this year. Freshmen and seniors have already received an email with an individualized link to the survey, which can be filled out by computer, tablet, or smartphone. Students who complete it will receive $5 in Convenience Points on their Terrier Card. The University is trying to get word out about the survey through posters placed across campus, banner ads on the BU Shuttle (BUS), and working with resident assistants.
The NSSE survey is conducted by the Indiana University School of Education Center for Postsecondary Research. BU is given its own results as well as national benchmarks for comparable schools.
The NSSE’s 2016 “Snapshot” for BU found that when asked “how much their experience [at BU] contributed to their knowledge, skills, and personal development, seniors tended to check “very much” or “quite a bit” when asked specifically about “thinking critically and analytically,” “working effectively with others,” “writing clearly and effectively,” and “speaking clearly and effectively.” According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, those are among the top attributes sought by employers.
“The NSSE survey is an important tool for the BU administration to get input from students regarding their experiences here,” says Christine McGuire, vice president and associate provost for enrollment and student administration. “We work hard to make the academic and social experience outstanding, so we need to know what is working well for students, and what might not be working as well. This information helps us improve our campus community.”