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Student Engagement

The NSSE annual survey of four-year college students seeks to help colleges and universities measure how well the institutions are contributing to learning.

The 2008 report from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) finds, somewhat surprisingly, that online learners report a deeper involvement in their learning experiences in their classes relative to students in face-to-face classes. The online students also reported a higher frequency of participating in intellectually challenging course activities.

These results suggest that those who teach classes online may be making special efforts to engage their students, notes Alexander C. McCormick, NSSE director and associate professor of education at Indiana University. It may also be the case that online classes appeal to students who are more academically motivated and self-directed.

The NSSE report, Promoting Engagement for All Students: The Imperative to Look Within, also found that when courses provided extensive, intellectually challenging writing activities, students engaged in more deep learning activities such as analysis, synthesis, and integration of ideas from various sources, and they grappled more with course ideas both in and out of the classroom. These students also reported greater personal, social, practical, and academic learning and development.

The NSSE survey, now entering its tenth year, looks at five key areas of educational performance—Level of Academic Challenge; Active and Collaborative Learning; Student-Faculty Interaction; Enriching Educational Experiences; and Supportive Campus Environment—and is based on data from nearly 380,000 randomly selected first-year and senior students at 722 four-year colleges and universities in the United States.

The survey also found that nearly a quarter of first-year students and one in five seniors reported that they frequently came to class without completing readings or assignments.

Thomas F. Nelson Laird, project manager for the companion Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) notes that the finding “coincides with results from FSSE and NSSE, indicating that students spend about half as much time preparing for class as faculty expect.”

Finally, the report notes that the quality of undergraduate education varies far more within colleges and universities than between them. As a result, rankings can be highly misleading predictors of educational quality.

The 2008 NSSE survey, sponsored by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, can be downloaded at

From the Lectern

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek—it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers—in this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people.

—President-Elect Barack Obama
Grant Park, Chicago
November 4, 2008

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