Is Student Engagement Related to Disappointment, or Just a Misunderstanding?

CTSI’s interest in student-faculty interaction stems from it’s significants as a benchmark of student engagement, in the NSSE, or National Survey of Student Engagement (affectionately known as “Nessie”). And, it’s not just for undergraduates. Two similar surveys also measure engagement from students before their first year of University (Before College Survey of Student Engagement, the BCSSE or “Bessie”), and Faculty perceptions of student engagement (Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, the FSSE or “Fessie”). But what do the different surveys suggest about student engagement?

This question was the focus of a recent publication from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), “Disappointment, Misunderstanding and Expectations: A Gap Analysis of NSSE, BCSSE and FSSE”,  by M. Mancuso, S. Desmarais, K. Parkinson, and B. Pettigrew, from the University of Guelph. They compared survey data from the BCSSE, NSSE and FSSE taken at the University of Guelph from 2005-2007, to figure out how much students were disappointed about their experience following their first year, and how strong the misperceptions might be between students and faculty about the student experience.

The study found in most cases a general trend toward diminishing engagement from expectation from the BCSSE to NSSE, and an underestimation of engagement by faculty compared to what students reported from NSSE to FSSE, a relationship something like BCSSE > NSSE > FSSE.

The exceptions to this rule? The benchmarks on student-faculty interaction. These questions, related to interactions such as discussion grades or assignments, or talking about career plans with a faculty member, showed the strongest drop from expectations from BCSSE to NSSE. In other words, the biggest disappointment for students after their first year was about student-faculty interaction. The same questions also showed a high misunderstanding on the part of faculty about students’ interaction with them. While students were disappointed, faculty perceived their interaction with students to be much higher.

It’s possible that students and faculty might have unrealistic expectations about what normal interaction. However, it’s striking that these benchmarks in the surveys showed the widest gaps between student expectation and faculty perception. In the authors’ words,  “regardless of whether students’ underestimate or faculty overestimate their level of interaction, there is some disconnect between the groups that could indicate a serious pedagogical challenge.” (Mancuso et. al., p 25)

Focusing on interaction through communication policies and alternatives to office hours are just a few strategies that can have a positive impact in encouraging students to interact with their professors. CTSI continues to looking for strategies that encourage good interaction. Browse our current Inventory of Effective Practices to learn more!

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