February 5, 2010
It is survey season for students at the University of Saskatchewan.
Between January and April, virtually the entire student body will be asked to participate in one or more major polls – an academic advising survey, the Canadian University Survey Consortium (CUSC) poll, an aboriginal student survey, the Globe and Mail Canadian University Report survey and the Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey, to name a few. Surveys have been done before but this year, the university is taking a new approach to the process to ensure campus-wide co-ordination and to improve the communication of results.
“We’ve run surveys for a number of years to get an understanding of how students are experiencing the university, and how we’re doing in meeting our teaching and learning goals,” said Pauline Melis, assistant provost of Institutional Planning and Assessment (IPA). Now, under the university’s new framework for assessment, the IPA has been charged with co-ordinating the surveying that goes on across campus, integrating the findings into institutional planning and making sure the results are accessible.
Part of the IPA’s work is to find out who is surveying which students and when, in addition to the national surveys, in order to avoid duplication. “We do have concerns about over surveying,” Melis said. “We’re participating in big national surveys like CUSC that benchmark the university against other institutions but if students are not responding because they’re tired of doing surveys, it doesn’t give us an accurate picture. This is not ‘surveys are us’, but we want a sense of how big the iceberg is that we’re going to run into.”
There may be situations where an individual college is seeking specific information but instead of conducting its own survey, questions can be piggy backed onto national surveys, she said. This co-ordinated approach might also reveal that the data being sought by a college can be mined from the results of a different survey.
The IPA is making an effort to raise awareness of the national surveys and encourage students to participate. At the same time, work is underway to improve the process of sharing the results. “In the past, we haven’t done a very good job of reporting back to students what we’ve heard and learned, and what we’re doing about it,” said Melis. And because of the institutional commitment to improving the student experience, making survey findings broadly available across campus is equally important when the university gears up for its third integrated plan.
“We see all the collected data feeding the next plan,” Melis said. “We want to build a baseline, make changes, see how our changes affect student perspectives and then consider what to do next. It’s a process of continuous improvement.”
Information about the surveys and the results can be found on the IPA website: www.usask.ca/ip/surveys