Archive for January, 2009

Survey Says… Asking the “Right” Questions requires thought

Posted on January 28, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In my experience, asking the right questions and focusing on the right programs, services, and/or components is a huge key to successful surveys. While the right questions or focus areas are different for all departments, I think that some of the essential elements are the same.

◊ Ask questions that your office want the answers to- if the office is asking for suggestions for improving a program but don’t have the time or resources to make changes in an efficient time period, hold off on asking the question.

◊ Make surveys inclusive- allow for people to check multiple boxes, write-in answers, or completely skip questions that they don’t feel comfortable or compelled to answer

◊ Write questions that are clear and easy for all participants to understand

◊ Ask questions that have a clear connection to the goals and mission of your department or university- in the case of classes make sure questions connect with learning outcomes

◊ Focus on surveying programs that provide a similar service to all participants- For example, while the conduct office has a central mission when it comes to informal hearings and we follow the same procedure for each one, the outcomes depend a great deal on the student’s violation and our meeting with them. Students have often had very different experiences with the police and legal system by the time we see them and this also influences the hearing. Surveying the informal hearing process is therefore problematic because so many other factors influence their answers. On the other hand, we can accurately survey incoming graduate assistants about the effectiveness of the presentations our office gives to them during their training. We have confidence that the same information is being given each time and the graduate students are all in a similar situation, of new faculty members. This confidence cuts down on the number of other factors that could explain the results we receive.

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Contracted Assessment Tools

Posted on January 28, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

My office has an on-line assessment service that helps create, distribute and analyze assessment projects. This service has provided me with a wonderful structure for thinking about and creating assessment tools. It has also given me some huge headaches when it came to applying assessment projects.

I have come to really appreciate the fact that the service requires universities and the departments to report their missions and goals before jumping into the assessment projects. While it seemed easier to start designing assessments without thinking about these larger concepts,  I have come to realize that key assessment issues and questions must ultimately tie back into larger goals and missions. Stakeholders will often be looking at these larger concepts when considering a department’s value and therefore offices should be looking for ways to showcase their value through this same lens.

While the process of submitting assessments for the service to post seems fairly intuitive it has been incredibly hard for me to work with the staff members to transfer my initial documents and plans into working models on the website. I am willing to concede that this is partially due to my limited assessment vernacular and the fact that it is hard for me to communicate the visual details I hope to see through email and phone conversations. The most frustrating thing for me has been the number of times when a service agent has completely changed the order of my questions, left out or added words to questions, or changed entire questions around WITHOUT indicating why the changes were made. Given that this is a service, I would expect  and hope to receive feedback and advice, not unexplained updates. For me this has been the most disappointing thing, I haven’t learned how to create better questions or order them in more effective ways. This brings up a question as to whether it is in the services best interest to help me learn these things or if it is better to keep me unaware so they can keep serving me.

What I have gained from this experience is an understanding of the highs and lows regarding contracting outside agencies to handle certain functions within student affairs. Contracting services that provide a much needed product (like assessment help) that a lot of departments need (like assessment help) and that not many people enjoy or are particularly trained in (like assessment) is a job that all administrators will have to make. Administrators must contract services that are user-friendly, increase office efficiency, and improve a product or service that is already offered. They must also be willing to address the shortcomings of these services and make sure they contract with outside vendors who are open to conversations about how to improve their product.

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VARK Learning Styles and Academic Exploration

Posted on January 25, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

As an academic advisor, it is important for me to recognize that a student’s learning style can have an influence on how they want to explore potential majors and careers. Here are some brief examples of how VARK (Visual, Auditory, Read/write/digital, and Kinesthetic) learning styles can be used to create affective plans for exploring academic majors, jobs, and careers.

Visual learners may benefit from creating flowcharts, graphs, or other image rich documents to help them outline the exploration process. It may be helpful to help them visualize the types of classes they enjoy, the jobs they can see themselves doing, and the things they are looking for in a major or career. Job shadowing or visiting a specific class that they have an initial interest in may also help.

Auditory Learnerswould benefit from listening to lectures, podcasts, radio shows on topics that they might want to study further. They might find talking with a professor in particular departments and professionals in certain fields particularly helpful in their search. Reflecting with others about the information they are gathering and how they are going to apply the information will also be helpful for auditory learners.

Reading, Writing/Digital Learners will likely enjoy exploring the college catalog more than other learners. They will gather a great deal of assistance by simply reading about the requirements for different degree programs and writing notes on the things that interest them the most. It may be helpful for digital learners to create class schedules for majors of interest, visit departmental websites and read blogs from student and staff members in specific majors, and write outlines for their review and analysis. Reading journal articles from fields of interest may also be quite helpful to digital learners.

Kinesthetic Learners may find job shadows, lab courses, internships, study aboard opportunities or getting involved in a campus group helpful to their exploration process.

In addition to advising individual students based on these learning styles it is also important to design major and career decision making courses with various activities that will benefit students with any and all combinations of these learning preferences.

For more information on the VARK Learning Styles addressed above, click here

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Promoting self-efficacy among non-traditional students

Posted on January 24, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

One of the greatest challenges to a lot of students who identify with traditionally underrepresented groups is simply feeling like they can succeed in college. Feelings of doubt are perpetuated by many systems of oppression. The media chooses to create movies, TV shows, and news stories that portray college as a place for white, 18-25 year old, able-bodied, straight, middle-income and above, American students to learn, socialize, and succeed. The K-12 education system has created systems to identify certain students (most often ones who identify with traditional college students) as “college material” and confine others to lesser pursuits. Political figures have supported these systems and created policies that promote such practices.

Given all of the systems working against them, it is no surprise that many students arrive on campuses already wondering if they belong in college. There are several things that student affairs professionals can do to help address these feelings.

◊ I think one of the most important things that must be done is to fully and publicly acknowledge the systems of oppression that create this lack of self-efficacy among non-traditional populations. Staff, faculty, and students of all backgrounds and identities must recognize the isms that create the unique needs and feelings of non-traditional students

◊ Non-traditional students must be able to affirm the challenges that they face when entering higher education and find inclusive environments to share their the feelings of inadequacy they may experience. This support should not only come for staff members who specialize in areas of multiculturalism and work with diverse populations, but from the college community as a whole.

◊ Academic preparation programs geared towards non-traditional student populations must employ staff and faculty who can address issues of self-efficacy in sensitive ways. Using motivational interviewing may help them gain insight into students’ feeling and plans for being successful and help them develop individualized plans to help students persist despite set-backs, including those impacted by their identity as non-traditional.

◊ Non-traditional students must be introduced to either personally or through scholarly work to people of non-traditional identities that have succeeded in academics and life in general. Having examples of others who have overcome the systems of oppression and set-back of non-traditional students is incredibly important to promoting self-efficacy among incoming students.

◊ Support services, clubs, and cultural centers that focus on the needs of  non-traditional students must intentionally celebrate the academic and personal successes of students that partake in their services. These celebrations create a formal venue for other students to recognize that they too can be successful and promotes an expectation of academic excellence for student who might not otherwise expect the same from themselves.

Ultimately these programs and others should promote a feeling by all students that their university supports and expects them to succeed. This feeling should in turn promote self-efficacy.

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Academic Integrity and International Students

Posted on January 24, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

As part of my assistantship, I work with students who are found in violation of OSU’s academic dishonesty policy. One of the trends in this area is the substantial increase in international students who are found in violation of this part of our conduct code. In many of my conversations with international students I have  come to identify two reasons for this increase:

1.) A student’s writing skills are not at the college level and therefore the student is more vulnerable to committing plagiarism

2.) There is a significant difference in the way academic integrity components (cheating, assisting, plagiarism) are defined between a student’s home country and the United States.

Having recognized the negative impact that these charges can have on international students, I think it is a responsibility of college administrators to develop programs that address these issues.

I think that issues surrounding writing skills can be addressed in several ways:

◊ Entry-level English courses (offered for both incoming domestic and international students) need to focus greater attention on proper citation techniques in the United States

◊ Staff and faculty that oversee international student orientations and organizations, cultural centers, etc. need to thoroughly explain and promote the services at campus writing centers, academic success centers, professor office hours, and on-line services (

◊ Academic advisors must feel comfortable recommending remedial English courses for students who do not have qualifying test scores. These decisions must be discussed openly and explained in terms of a student’s overall success.

Specific programming must be developed to address to the cultural differences with regard to issues of academic integrity. In creating this programming it is important to recognize the immense diversity among international students and a great deal of the discussions regarding these matters will depend on the countries or regions where the student has previously studied.

◊ Panel discussion lead by returning, international students would be an excellent way to communicate the changing expectations with regard to issues such as United States standards regarding citation, group work, procedures for tests. It would be important for university administrators to meet with panelists beforehand and discuss the topics they feel comfortable covering and the details of what they should be talking about. Panel discussions with international students would help address the language barriers that may be present if native English speakers explain the policies and procedures.

◊ Workshops, classes, and/or orientations should be developed for international students that include gaining hands-on experience with citation techniques as part of their learning objectives.

◊ Professional development opportunities need to be presented to faculty and staff members so that they can gain better insight into the cultural differences regarding academic integrity issues.

I am sure that colleges and universities around the country are actively engaged in developing and implementing such programming. I hope to do more research on such programs in the coming years and help to create effective programs at my home institution(s).

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Negative Feeback & the Search for Cause and Effect

Posted on January 23, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I’ve already posted on how I reacted to the positive feedback that I received from the course evaluations from my U-Engage course, but I also want to spend some time reporting on the feedback that wasn’t so positive and reflecting on my thoughts regarding this information.

Approximately 25% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed that the course helped them become more involved on campus. While I know that the benefits of involvement were discussed and the experiential activities and mid-term paper were designed to help students start brainstorming and experiences a few ways to increase their involvement, they were not intrinsically going to facilitate prolonged involvement-nor do I think a class of this nature should have such a learning outcome. I would suggest rewording this question to whether or not U-Engage helped them recognize the benefits of involvement or exposed them to various ways to get involved on campus.

It was very interesting to see that over 40% of our students disagreed or strongly disagreed that the course was sufficiently challenging. This was surprising particularly because I found it  challenging  to convey to students the amount of time and energy that is required to succeed in college courses. There were quite a few times when I remember receiving feedback from recitation leaders and students that they were having difficulties with the amount of reading and the number of assignments. Having looked over data from this section in other U-Engage sections, I see that ours was not unique. I think that there are a number of variables that could have influenced the students’ perspective on how challenging the course was. In comparison to their other new college courses, U-Engage was geared towards addressing their transition to the university and guiding them into the college classroom slowly and therefore may have seemed less challenging. In all likelihood some students in our course were more prepared for college than others and therefore found the reading and assignments less challenging. Other students may have chosen to focus most of their energy on other courses and therefore perceived U-Engage as less challenging. There is also a question as to how students define “challenging”. Some students may have viewed challenging as something that completely exceeds their ability to succeed and not seen the course in these terms. Given the number of variables at play, I cannot recommend any specific ways to improve the course. I would have been interested to see the breakdown whether students found the course sufficiently challenging along side the grades students expected to receive in course. I think this may have helped in the analysis.

Approximately 18% of students disagreed that we provided clear expectations. I am willing to concede that if I were to teach this course again, or any course for that matter, I will have scoring rubrics available for assignments that are more subjective in nature. Other than that I am confident that the other instructors and I were very approachable and would have been more than willing to clarify expectations at any point. One of the greatest challenges for first-year students is learning what professors expect and that may also help to explain this data.

Having spent some time looking at some of the less positive numbers, I am actually feeling better about the way things went then I was looking at the positive numbers. Perhaps this is because the variables that influenced negative feedback vary a great deal and leave me feeling as though there is no simple solution for what was reported. I think this ambiguity may be another weakness of raw data. It leaves the assessor with a clear understanding of the effect the course had, but no clear path to the primary cause(s).

If cause(s) were important, I would recommend adding comment sections to certain questions that historically lead to lots of possible causes. I would also suggest using focus groups as a way to get more context than raw data provides.

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Raw Data

Posted on January 23, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

So I’m sitting here looking at the raw data from course evaluations for my U-Engage section this past Fall and all I can say is “numbers don’t tell me the story I want to hear”; I guess this explains why I won’t be looking for jobs in accounting anytime soon. Even when the numbers are good, say 90% or more strongly agreeing or agreeing that the course communicated the shared values of the OSU community, helped them become familiar with OSU resources, found instructors to be well prepared, approachable, and sensitive to issues of diversity, I’m still looking for more. I guess it’s the student affairs professional in me, but I want to written examples of  how the OSU values resonate with them. I want to know what resources they used and what support they received. I want words to describe our level of preparedness, approachability and sensitivity.

Perhaps I would like the data more if it were in the form of a pie chart. Perhaps if had included a few brief passages supporting the numbers I was seeing. Overall, I think that this experience has made me realize the importance of creating assessment presentations that include numbers, percentages, pie charts, written comments, and any other forms of data that may tell the whole story to stakeholders and target audiences. These people will have different learning styles and creating a number of ways to view an assessment will be essential in making sure they all walk away with a similar message.

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Speaking My Mind aka Publishing a Blog

Posted on January 19, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Going into my portfolio defense I will not have any professional publishing experience. I will however have spent countless hours working on this blog which in many ways has shaped my lens regarding the dissemination of information and will forever impact any future works I chose to publish.

The first thing that I’ve come away with is an understanding that the information I am trying to disperse and the audience I am trying to reach are key determinants of how I go about publishing information. I chose toblog because blogs are one of today’s most utilized technologies for sharing personal spins of various issues, in my case the CSSA competencies. I chose to blog because it offered my fairly limited audience, mainly my committee the opportunity to keep track of my progress and ask questions along the way. If I were trying to disperse information with more empirical evidence and theoretical support, such as a thesis, then I would need to chose a publishing venue that further validates the information being shared. I would also want the information to be visibly advertised to a larger audience through a scholarly journal, professional association newsletter, etc.

No matter what information I publish I know that I am ultimately responsible for the content and must be responsive to the reactions that people have to my work. Given the relatively low activity on my blog I have yet to be overloaded with reactions and subsequent needs to respond but it is always in the back of my mind. I must be able to back up my claims with evidence, whether based in science, theory, or personal experience and admit holes or areas of subjectivity when my work.

Another key thing that I have had to keep in mind when writing this blog are my relationships with the organizations, departments, offices, and programs that I have had a large impact on my learning throughout the past two years. I have adapted posts to maintain the confidentiality of people I have worked with and also made adaptions out of respect for the inner workings and complex circumstances I experienced within certain programs. I have had to determine what sensitive, personal information to share and rationalized my choices based on the amount of learning that I perceived would come out of sharing. I have considered how supervisors, colleagues, students, friends, and mentors would interpret the information I was sharing and how it might impact my future relationships with them. While these issues may or may not show up in my future publication decisions, my increased thoughtfulness will benefit me in many future endeavors.

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The personal components of learning

Posted on January 18, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The way a person goes about learning and then using the knowledge they gather is a very personal experience. A person’s experiences in both the classroom and the world at large have a huge influence on their ability to comprehend information, analyze and critique concepts and explore new ideas and ways of knowing . Learning styles also have a large role in the learning experience. As a instructor and presenter it is important to have a working knowledge of these concepts and how to shape activities and presentation around them. Steps to doing so include:

Capitalize on students’ experiences: allowing students to speak about how concepts, theories, and facts have influenced their own lives brings learning into the personal realm. It creates a connection between the facts and figures in books, articles, and lectures with real world learning that is taking place constantly. It allows for exposure to a diversity of opinions and perspectives and it forces students to contemplate multiple ways of viewing and applying the same information.

Personal examples include:

In my Distressed and Disruptive Student presentations I ask TAs what types of behaviors are distracting to them in the classroom, how they have confronted distracting behaviors in the past, have them brainstorm good ways to set behavioral expectations in the classroom and discuss reasonable consequences for disruptive behavior.

In our U-Engage recitations students were encouraged to spent time reflecting on their own transition to the university and discuss with one another the resources and support systems they were using to cope with the transition. An integral part of the mid-term paper and final project also required them to reflect on their own experiences and use them to back up the opinions and facts they shared.

Promote experiential learning opportunities: creating assignments that allow students to integrate their current “in class” learning with new real world experiences creates an increased knowledge base to capitalize on based on the previously mentioned student experiences. Experiential learning also exposes students to learning in multiple settings and may promote their interest in study abroad programs, internships, service projects, etc.

Examples: U-Engage experiential activities explained in the dissection of the assignments post

Final project in CAMP Wellness Learning Community explained in former post

Use personal reflections or journals: This not only allows students to more thoroughly reflect on their own experiences and the experiences of others who chose to share in class, but it also creates a venue for students who are less comfortable disclosing personal information in class to still connect their academics with their own experiences.

Utilize Knowledge of Learning Style and Personality Types to Create Assignments: Keeping in mind that students analyze information in many different ways is essential. Some people need to see a picture, read a paper, listen to a lecture, debate a topic, or do a task in order to learn a concept. Having students engage in as many possible learning tasks as possible not only honors individual learning styles but also challenges students to use analyze information in a multitude of ways.

Example: Having students in the academic integrity seminar read articles about integrity and academic dishonesty, write a paper analyzing various concepts of academic integrity and reflecting on the readings, discuss issues of academic integrity in small groups, debate whether certain acts are legitimate short-cuts or academic dishonesty, and listen to a presentation on OSU’s definition and policy regarding academic integrity.

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Communicating Expectations

Posted on January 18, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

One of the “best practices” for teaching and presentations is communicating clear expectations. Learning objectives for classes and presentations need to give the attendee a solid understanding of what they will be taking away from the experience. These objectives need to be discussed and if possible expanded or narrowed depending on the needs, wants and time limitations of the attendees and instructor/presenter.

In the classroom, it is essential to provide clear expectations for what students must do to succeed. It is important for instructors to make their expectations as transparent as possible and discuss them in order to ensure that students understand them and why they are in existence. I believe that in many cases the rationale for an expectation is more important than the expectation itself. If a professor explains why they have the standards they have for a particular assignment or why they believe so strongly in the academic dishonesty policy then students will see the time and energy that went into creating the expectations and therefore be more likely to adhere to them. The same theory holds for presentations, if the presenter can communicate the overall necessity of the presentation they are giving it is going to hold more value for those in attendance.

Grading scales and scoring rubrics are not only a great way to helps students break down assignment expectations and monitor their progress, but also help immensely in the grading process. They create a level of objectivity in otherwise subjective situations. They also create a contract of sorts between instructor and student and therefore create a format in which to have discussions about grading issues. It is far easier to indicate specifically where a student missed points and how they can improve in that area.

Clearly communicating behavioral expectations and consequences for not following them not only helps to prevent distractions (cell phones going off, eating in class, side-conversations) it also helps to create a learning environment that everyone can feel comfortable within. Clear expectations will also help to reduce the likelihood of injury in potentially dangerous learning environments (science labs, in-the field trainings, etc.). Once again instructors and presenters must be willing to discuss why particular behaviors are not acceptable within their classrooms in order to gain increased buy-in from attendees.

Ultimately communicating expectations early on, explaining the reasoning behind them and repeating them as often as needed will not only provide a more conducive learning environment, it will also lessen the likelihood of conflicts arising due to grade disputes and classroom distractions (and in severe cases, it may also prevent against claims of negligence).

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