Report Compares Faculty and Student Opinions on Student Engagement

Posted: November 4, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Christopher Anzalone

George Mason’s Office of Institutional Assessment (OIA) released a report in August comparing the findings of the pilot Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) with the those of the 2003 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). The NSSE, which the university participates in every three years, collects data from four-year colleges and universities nationwide, seeking to find out how undergraduate students use their university academic experience and what they gain from it. The FSSE is a web survey that seeks to complement the NSSE by comparing student and faculty observations of academic life.

The FSSE found that approximately 9 out of 10 faculty members who responded believe the university places an emphasis on critical thinking and individual learning by its students. In another area of perceived institutional emphasis, 71 percent of upper-division and 58 percent of lower-division faculty believe that George Mason emphasizes clear and effective writing among its student population, compared with 74 percent of first-year students and 81 percent of senior students.

When it comes to technology, however, the discrepancy between faculty and student responses is significant. Only 35 percent of upper- and lower-division faculty respondents believe that the university places significant emphasis on computer and IT skills, compared with 78 percent of first-year and 90 percent of senior students.

In spring 2003, 1,231 full-time and part-time instructional faculty members in departments and colleges with undergraduate programs were contacted and invited to participate in the FSSE. A total of 316 participated for a response rate of 26 percent, with three times as many full-time faculty members than part-time faculty taking part. Fifty percent of respondents have taught for more than 15 years, and faculty specializing in the arts and humanities were the largest group to respond, making up 29 percent of total participants. The next highest single-discipline response rates came from faculty within the social sciences (15 percent) and business (11 percent.)

Although the FSSE, which measures lower-division and upper-division faculty opinions, is designed to compliment the NSSE, the questions asked on each survey differ, and thus the comparisons are not exact in all areas. One major difference between the two is that the NSSE asked students to respond to a group of courses taken during the previous academic year and the FSSE asked faculty members to respond in terms of one undergraduate course during the same time period.

The OIA report, noting the low response rate to the pilot survey and the fact that the respondents were not “characteristic of all undergraduate instructional faculty…and [were] disproportionately full-time,” states that the results of the FSSE have to be interpreted with “great caution.”

Both the FSSE and the NSSE may be viewed at the OIA’s web site.

To view the Daily Gazette‘s earlier article on the NSSE, click here.

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