To the Division of Student Development, assessment is more than numbers and benchmarks; it is about identifying how we as a division contribute to student learning. For decades, scholars in higher education have observed that learning occurs not only within classrooms, labs and libraries—but also within our residence halls, in the Health Center, in Career Exploration and Development, and within student clubs and organizations to name a few. As a Division, we are committed to providing students with learning opportunities. Our assessment measurements help us determine whether our programs and activities meet their intended learning objectives.
Many of our assessment efforts center around our participation in the NASPA Consortium, which allows us to examine student learning across a variety of areas (e.g. Residence Life, Civic Engagement, Fraternity & Sorority Life). The Student Development Assessment & Research Office creates a summary of the data from each survey to share with the appropriate department. Each summary identifies areas for improvement as well as areas in which we excel—many of which are illuminated by comparing our data to peer institutions. Thus, assessment allows us to discern where we are significantly contributing to student learning and the areas we are not being as effective—providing guidance as to where we should focus our efforts. Because we are committed to using the data to improve student learning and the student experience, each department develops action items for the upcoming year in response to the data.
While participating in the NASPA Consortium is a significant component of our assessment plan, we also assess on the departmental level by developing our own instruments to gauge student learning and departmental effectiveness. In addition, as an institution we utilize the national CIRP, YFCY, and NSSE surveys to gather information from students.
- CIRP: Upon arrival, first-year students are administered the CIRP survey, which examines their behaviors during high school in addition to their values, goals, and opinions, their academic preparation, and their interactions with others.
- YFCY: Near the conclusion of the first year of college, first-year students are administered the YFCY survey which asks a variety of questions about their first year of college. Specifically, it aims to examine students' adjustment to college, their academic experience and performance, their involvement in campus activities, and their behaviors, values, and opinions.
- NSSE: During Spring Semester, NSSE is administered to first-year and senior students to discern their engagement in their academic career in addition to asking about how the institution uses resources and provides opportunities for students.
- ACHA-NCHA: In select academic years, we administer the American College Health Association's National College Health Assessment, which obtains data about students' health habits, behaviors and perceptions.
We administer the following assessment instruments:
- Career & Professional Aspirations Survey
- Mental Health & Counseling Survey
- Recreation & Wellness Survey
- Student Union & Programming Survey
As exhibited by the illustration above, assessment is not an end point—it's a continuous, iterative cycle. Whenever we assess a program, activity, or service, we need to make use of that data—dig through it to extract our strengths and opportunities for improvement. Based on the summary of key findings, each office develops action items to implement in response to the data. The action items range from exploring new programs, improving existing programs, or discontinuing certain programs and services because they are not contributing to student learning. Those action items are then implemented and the cycle continues, as we must assess again to determine whether student learning has improved based on the modifications to our activities, programs, or services. In order to build and sustain a culture of assessment, we believe it is imperative to share the data with the community, as students need to see the institution is committed to providing them with high quality opportunities, programs, and services to help them grow and learn.
National surveys only tell us so much about our students and their experiences. We also assess on the departmental level by developing our own instruments to gauge student learning and departmental effectiveness. These include a wide range of research methods which allow us to ask department-specific questions, or to “drill down” to better understand the results of national surveys.
During the 2010-2011 academic year, we conducted focus groups to extract more information about students’ perceptions of the campus culture and community; to gain insight into students' perceptions of their interactions with faculty, administrators and other students; to gauge the degree to which they feel supported in their non-academic responsibilities; and to appraise whether the institution helps them thrive socially. Summaries of these focus groups are developed and shared with various constituents to provide them with students’ perspectives on a variety of matters. In addition, they have been posted on MyDenison.
Each week since May 2011, we have also sent a short survey to students who have offered to share their opinions and perspectives on the topic of the week. The “Tuesday Questions” have covered subjects ranging from the aesthetic appeal of Slayter's 3rd floor to academic integrity to eating disorders. The Tuesday Questions require little time from students, but provide an on-going means of interaction between students and the Division. (Note: if you would like to join the Tuesday Questions email list, please contact Julie Tucker.
Assessment reports are available to authorized Denison faculty, staff and students by logging into myDenison and selecting 'Campus Reports & Documents' and then choosing 'Student Voice Assessment Reports'.