Monday, November 13, 2000

Student effort found lagging

Involving collegians important

By Ben. L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        American undergraduates say schools are academically demanding but students don't measure up to those scholarly expectations.

        In a new national survey released today, 79 percent of freshmen and seniors say their schools emphasize spending significant amounts of time on academics.

        But fewer than 15 percent of students were sufficiently engaged by those courses to spend even the traditional two hours on homework for every hour of class.

        Worse, 55 percent spend less than one hour.

  Questions probed by the first National Survey of Student Engagement:
  • How often students had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity, made a class presentation, rewrote a paper several times, came to class unprepared, and discussed grades or an assignment with a faculty member?
  • How many assigned and unassigned books did they read, how many papers or reports did they write or rewrite, and how many pages did those efforts involve?
  • How often did faculty members require them to memorize, analyze, synthesize, judge or apply class materials?
  • To what extent did schools emphasize spending significant amounts of time on study and other academic work?
        The inaugural National Survey of Student Engagement reports what 63,000 undergraduates say about their education and class involvement.

        The most surprising result was the lack of studying, said Judy Ouimet, a research analyst and assistant project manager for the survey.

        The survey also found that, after crunching all of the numbers, two participating Tristate schools stood out in terms of effective educational practices.

        Freshmen and seniors rated Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, a “strong performer” when it came to academic challenges, and seniors gave the same laurels to Miami University in Oxford.

        Granted, students who choose Antioch or Miami may be inclined to be upbeat, but so are students elsewhere, Dr. Ouimet cautioned.

        “Generally, students are looking for a particular type of experience,” she said, and they respond positively when they find it, regardless of whether it's a nontraditional campus, a selective university or a huge state school.

        However admirable those strong performers were, the study warned that one year's data were insufficient to say they are necessarily exemplars to be emulated. At the same time, their students reported being highly engaged in Spring 2000.

        “This is showing us things that are important,” said De nise Krallman, assistant director for Miami's institutional research, especially that so many students were expected to analyze issues rather than repeat memo rized facts on tests.

        Mrs. Krallman will report the results to Miami's board in December. Meanwhile, results from the 1,000 Miami students can be used to sell the school.

        “It's not just our saying we do these things,” she said.

Rankings published
               Those few schools named in that example agreed to have their rankings published. Other results — ranking individual schools — were not made public.

        Instead, participating schools received confidential reports ranking them on every question answered by the students.

        Generally, however, students rated 4-year liberal arts colleges better on every important criterion than research-oriented universities when it came to undergraduate education.

        The study — to be done annually — was supported by a 3-year $3.3 million grant from Pew Charitable Trusts.

        It was co-sponsored by the Pew Forum on Undergraduate Learning and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

        Questions were asked and analyzed by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning in Bloomington.

        Too many schools volunteered for the study, so 276 were chosen. The 63,000 responses came from more than 150,000 freshmen and seniors polled on those campuses.

        Participants each answered 40 questions probing “benchmarks” that study says are vital to undergraduate learning and personal development:

        • Level of academic challenge.

        • Active/collaborative learning.

        • Interaction with faculty.

        • Enriching educational experiences.

        • Supportive campus environment.

        Students and parents should be asking similar questions, said Russell Edgerton, director of the Pew Forum. “How much do students study and how rigorous are their assignments? How much writing is expected? How often do students interact with their teachers in meaningful ways?”

        In introductory remarks to the public study report, Mr. Edgerton and Lee Shulman, president of Carnegie's foundation, said the survey offers a new way to examine undergraduate education.

        “For years, judgments about the quality of colleges and universities have turned on evidence about the resources institutions have assembled (students with high entering SAT scores, faculty with impressive credentials, li braries with extensive holdings, etc.) and the reputations those institutions enjoy,” they wrote.

Impressive surroundings
“But as we all know, students can be surrounded by impressive resources and yet rarely encounter classes or other activities that authentically engage them in learning.”

               However, they said, the survey reveals how institutions are actually using their resources to provide deep, meaningful learning experiences as reported by the students themselves.

        Ideally, Pew and Carnegie officials said, each campus can now use the evidence as a catalyst for institutional improvement.

Raising grades takes lot of time


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