- Letters to Editor
BY: KAYLA LASURE
Since 2007, Eastern has made part of its core mission to teach students to be better critical thinkers. The university’s Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) theme is, “to graduate informed, critical and creative thinkers who can communicate effectively.”
The effort appears to have paid off.
Earlier this year Eastern scored higher than state and national benchmarks in four of five areas in the National Survey of Student Engagement.
The NSSE collects information from hundreds of four-year colleges and universities about student participation in programs and activities that the college provides for their learning and personal progress. NSSE then compares the scores between the institutions and provides reports to the colleges participating.
There are five categories that are scored on the NSSE: level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment.
Only first year students and seniors are asked to participate in the survey. Of the estimated 6,000 first-year students and seniors at Eastern, 1,143 participated in the survey last spring. The percentage of students who responded was on par with the percentage of those that participated nationally.
First-year students helped place Eastern ahead in three of the five categories: academic challenge, student-faculty interaction and supportive campus environment.
Seniors placed Eastern ahead of the state and national benchmarks in four of the five categories: level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, and supportive campus environment.
For both first-year students and seniors, the scores for Eastern have improved in four categories compared to previous years’ scores. The scores were the highest record for Eastern since the university started participating in the NSSE in 2001.
Twenty-two percent of Eastern students who partook in the survey said they participated in a learning community, compared to the 15-16 percent of the state or national benchmark.
Of the Eastern seniors that took the survey, 64 percent reported making a class presentation, compared to 55 percent in the Kentucky system and 60 percent at national level.
For the second year in a row, 88 percent of the seniors said they would “definitely” or “probably” choose Eastern again if they could restart the college searching process.
Eastern scored lower than the national benchmark only in the enriching educational experiences category.
Stacey Street, Eastern’s Assistant Director of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, said some questions included in this category were: whether students had participated in a capstone course or culminating senior experience, if they have studied abroad, taken foreign language courses, participated in an internship, practicum, field experience or co-op experience, spend more than five hours per week participating in co-curricular activities, or participate in community service or volunteer work.
“We have scored lower in this section because many of our students do not have the wherewithal to study abroad,” Street said.
“Also, many of our students have financial and family responsibilities that require that they work. As such, our seniors do not study abroad or participate in community service or volunteer activities at a rate as high as do seniors on other campuses.”
Street also added that the administrators and faculty at Eastern closely study the information provided by the NSSE results and use it to make improvements to the campus, curricula, and policies.
For example, the new Applied Critical and Creative Thinking (ACCT) requirement partially resulted from the understanding that Eastern seniors consistently reported lower enriching educational experiences than seniors at other institutions.
“NSSE provided for the first time this year a score with comparisons to other schools for a new scale entitled Deeper Approaches to Learning (DAL),” said Street.
According to Street she is conducting a multi-year analysis using the DAL score for EKU.
“I can report that in 2012 EKU seniors reported DAL scores statistically significantly higher than did seniors at the other public universities in KY,” said Street “The Deeper Approaches to Learning (DAL) scale groups questions that focus on higher-order learning, integration and reflection, all of which are components of critical thinking.”
Street said the difference was significant, “In 2012, EKU seniors DAL score was 66 as compared to a score of 64 for seniors at the other KY public universities combined.”