At Denison, we recognize that learning occurs in many different places—certainly in classrooms, labs, and studios, but also on athletic fields, in residence halls and student organizations, and at the Health Center and Career Exploration, to name a few. As a Division, we are committed to providing students with learning opportunities. Our assessment efforts help us to determine whether our programs and activities meet their intended learning outcomes and then prompt us to improve student learning and to enrich the student experience based on the findings.
Six learning domains center our work. Each program, service, or initiative aims to contribute to student learning in at least one of these domains. In addition, our learning outcomes established at the divisional level also directly connect to Denison’s university-wide outcomes, as illustrated by the image below.
We use multiple methods and tools in our assessment initiatives: national and external survey instruments, locally-developed surveys, and focus groups and interviews.
National and External Survey Instruments
Denison regularly participates in large-scale survey projects. Our participation in these projects allows us to examine student learning and development by examining institutional progress over time and our performance relative to other private, liberal arts colleges and colleges nationally. Some of these large scale projects include:
- The Freshman Survey (TFS): Upon arrival, first-year students participate in the CIRP Freshman Survey, which examines their behaviors during high school, their values, goals, and opinions, their academic preparation, and their interactions with others.
- Your First College Year (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 on campus, and their behaviors, values, and opinions.
- College Senior Survey (CSS): Administered during their final month on campus, this survey asks seniors to report on their collegiate experiences—both curricular and co-curricular in nature, specifically their interactions with others, overall satisfaction, and their growth and development.
- National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE): During Spring Semester, NSSE is administered to first-year and senior students to discern their engagement in their collegiate experience, the quality of their relationships with others on campus, and the skills developed as a result of their experience.
- National College Health Assessment (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.
- Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership (MSL): This examines students’ leadership development, especially with regard to the practices and activities that contribute to leadership development.
- Additional Instruments: In recent years we have also administered department-specific surveys such as the Campus Labs NASPA Consortium surveys on Student Conduct, Student Involvement, and Residential Life and the EBI surveys on fraternity/sorority life and residential living.
National surveys only provide so much information about our students and their experiences. The Division of Student Development also develops its own instruments to gauge student learning and departmental effectiveness. These surveys allow us to examine specific questions of interest. In recent years, we have developed surveys to evaluate the effectiveness of our Medical Assistance Policy, to examine experiences at the Whisler Center for Student Wellness, to assess learning from specific programs and services, and to query alumni five years post-graduation about the value of their Denison experience.
Focus Groups & Interviews
While survey data can provide great insight into the student experience, qualitative data yielded from focus groups and individual interviews with students provide a robust narrative and serve as a rich opportunity to hear directly from students about how we can improve their experience and increase their learning. We have conducted focus groups to elicit more information about students’ perceptions of our campus community; to gain insight into their interactions with faculty, administrators and other students; to gauge the degree to which they feel their well-being is supported; and to assess what they have learned from their employment and leadership experiences. Examples of these projects include:
- Campus Culture & Community Focus Groups
- NSSE Follow-Up Focus Groups
- Well-Being Focus Groups
- First-Generation College Student Focus Groups
- Sexual Misconduct Policy Interviews
- Student Staff Focus Groups
- Persistence Interviews
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 those data—dig through them to identify 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.
We are committed to sharing the data with the campus community. In order to build and sustain a culture of assessment, we believe it is imperative to share the data with the community, as we want students to understand our commitment to providing them with high quality opportunities, programs, and services to help them grow and learn. In addition to posting the data on MyDenison, we also actively share relevant data with faculty and staff, with campus committees and during retreats and workshops.
Assessment reports are available to Denison faculty, staff and students by logging into myDenison.
For questions about the Student Development Office of Assessment & Research, please contact Julie Tucker.