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University of Northern Iowa Higher Learning Commission Accreditation Review

CHAPTER 11: LEARNING DIMENSION


Key Performance Indicators 
Current Situation
Opportunities and Challenges
Recommended Actions



Foundations Institutions deliver intentional curricular and co-curricular learning experiences that engage students in order to develop knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors consistent with the desired outcomes of higher education and the institution’s philosophy and mission.  Whether in or out of the classroom, learning also promotes increased competence in critical thinking, ethical development, and the lifelong pursuit of knowledge. 

Key Performance Indicators for the Learning Dimension include:

  • current classroom

    Learning Goals: The campus has established common learning goals specifically for the first year.
  • Engaging Students: The institution documents instructional methods used in high enrollment courses (such as Oral Communication, College Reading and Writing, etc.) and evaluates their effectiveness in engaging students in learning.
  • Course Outcomes: The institution documents and evaluates student learning outcomes in high enrollment courses.
  • Courses with High D/Failure/Withdrawal/Incomplete (DFWI) Rates: The institution attempts to address the causes of high DFWI rates in high-enrollment first-year courses.
  • Placement: The institution intentionally places students in appropriate first-year courses (addressing deficiencies in preparation and providing sufficient academic challenge for above-average students).
  • Out-of-Class Learning: The institution documents first-year student learning outcomes for student affairs functions/initiatives, including residence life.

Back to Top

 

Current Situation

 

Learning Goals

Though learning goals exist for various programs and courses, there is no established set of universal learning goals and outcomes for first-year students clearly and routinely being applied campus wide.  Learning goals are present in some high enrollment first-year courses.  For example, the Oral Communication course guidelines state learning goals are to be implemented by all instructors teaching these courses.[1]  The College Writing & Research course provides learning objectives for first-year students to all College Writing & Research instructors;[2] however, it is not evident that these are universally shared across all sections.  In other high enrollment courses, such as Introduction to Psychology[3] and Humanities,[4] a review of course syllabi revealed only a limited number of sections that stated specific learning objectives.

 

Faculty/staff FoE survey results indicate the presence of learning goals in first-year classes.  As seen in Table 11.1, 72.9% of faculty/staff who teach first-year students provided a rating of high or very high on the survey question, “For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree were specific learning goals developed?” (Q67) and 53.5% answered high or very high to the question, “For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree was achievement of student learning goals documented?” (Q68)  Faculty are less clear about the institution’s educational goals for first-year students.  On this question, only 16.8% answered high or very high.  (Q49)  As Table 11.2 indicates, students, while still slightly below the mean (3.38/5.0), had a better sense of the University’s learning goals for the first year of college. (Q42)


Table 11.1 FoE Faculty/Staff Survey – Learning Goals

Question

 #

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

49

To what degree: Do you understand this institution’s intended educational goals for the first/freshman year of college?

49.7%

33.5%

16.8%

2.54

67

For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree were specific learning goals developed? 

5.7%

21.4%

72.9%

3.99

68

For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree was achievement of student learning goals documented?

17.8%

28.6%

53.5%

3.55

1=Not at all; 2=Slight; 3=Moderate; 4=High; 5=Very High


Table 11.2 FoE Student Survey – Learning Goals

Question

 #

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

42

To what degree: Do you understand this institution’s intended learning goals for the  first year of college?

19.1%

32.5%

48.4%

3.38

1=Not at all; 2=Slight; 3=Moderate; 4=High; 5=Very High


Open-ended responses on the FoE faculty/staff survey indicate faculty/staff believe first-year students should learn information related to individual development (including personal responsibility, time management, and social skills), academic skills (including critical thinking, writing, study, reading, math, and problem-solving skills, along with ethics), and UNI (including information about the LAC & their major, as well as resources on campus and getting involved in the community). (For more information on the open-ended answers, see Appendices K & L[5]). 

 

The Liberal Arts Core Committee has developed and posted purposes and goals for the LAC in general as well as goals in specific categories of the core.  It has also created Current Outcomes and Assessment Methods.[6]  However, the Learning Dimension committee found it difficult to assess how these learning goals are applied to courses attended by first-year students, as there are no LAC courses specifically for first-year students.  Furthermore, there are no core competencies required for just the first year.

 

Engaging Students

faculty interaction with student

There is no documentation of instructional methods used in high-enrollment courses at the institutional level.  Most of the evidence available to the committee consisted of large-scale surveys, which were unrelated to the highest-enrollment first-year courses or courses with high D/F/W/I rates (see Appendix J [CPI table] for a list of these courses).  Departments informally document instructional methods through instructor evaluation and syllabus collection.  Some departments require uniform course syllabi and textbooks for consistency with philosophy and instructional goals for their LAC courses (e.g., Communication Studies[7]), but instructional methods are usually documented for the purpose of faculty tenure and promotion rather than direct attention to student outcomes.

 

The FoE student survey results identified the “Transitions: Making Connections” factor as below EBI’s 3.5 goal and needing improvement, with a mean of 3.30/5.0.  Table 13.2 in Chapter 13 shows that the lowest means on this factor occurred when students were asked to what degree the institution connected them with upper-class students (mean: 2.93) and with faculty members outside of class (mean: 2.73).  As seen in Table 11.3, on the FoE faculty/staff survey, UNI scored below the 3.5 goal mean (3.14/5.0) on the question, “To what degree does this institution assure that all first-year students experience individualized attention from faculty/staff?” (Q47)  UNI also scored below the mean on the question “To what degree does this institution assure that all first-year students experience out-of –class learning opportunities.  (Q48)  The last three questions relate to the institution connecting first-year students with faculty.


Table 11.3 FoE Faculty/Staff Survey – First-Year Instruction & Educational Environment

Question

 #

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

47

To what degree does this institution assure that all first-year students experience individualized attention from faculty/staff?

25.4%

37.5%

37.1%

3.14

48

To what degree does this institution assure that all first-year students experience out-of –class learning opportunities?

31.1%

41.4%

27.5%

2.96

61

For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you communicate your academic expectations to students?

0.5%

11.5%

88%

4.34

62

For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you encourage students to ask questions in class?

0.0%

6.3%

93.7%

4.57

63

For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you effectively manage student behavior in class?

2.1%

13.8%

84.1%

4.21

64

For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you initiate communication, early in the term, with students who are performing poorly?

11.5%

33.9%

54.7%

3.70

65

For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you encourage students to participate in course-related out-of-class events (e.g., lectures, concerts, exhibits)? 

13.2%

27.4%

59.5%

3.80

66

For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you make yourself available to students outside of class?

0.5%

9.9%

89.6%

4.42

1=Not at all; 2=Slight; 3=Moderate; 4=High; 5=Very High

 

Table 11.4 FoE Student Survey – Quality of Instruction

Question

 #

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

52

For the course you identified above, to what degree is the course material valuable to you?

14.4%

25.2%

60.1%

3.66

53

For the course you identified above, to what degree has this instructor helped you learn the course material?

10.8%

19.6%

69.6%

3.87

54

For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor provide individual attention?

25.1%

30.3%

44.7%

3.27

56

For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor provide prompt feedback about how well you are doing in the course?

19.6%

25.4%

55%

3.55

57

For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor encourage you to ask questions in class?

10.8%

15%

74.3%

3.99

58

For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor effectively organize the course material?

9.1%

18.1%

72.8%

3.97

59

For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor communicate concepts clearly?

11.7%

23.1%

65.2%

3.80

60

For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor use effective teaching methods?

12.5%

22.9%

64.5%

3.77

61

For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor communicate academic expectations to you?

9.5%

22.4%

68.1%

3.87

62

For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor encourage you to participate in course-related, out-of-class events (e.g., lectures, concerts, exhibits)?

23.4%

24%

52.6%

3.46

63

For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor make him/herself available outside of class?

7.7%

20.7%

71.6%

3.96

1=Not at all; 2=Seldom; 3=Sometimes; 4=Often; 5=Always


Results of the 2009 NSSE survey indicated that 16% of first-year students rated the quality of their relationship with instructors a 7, the highest rating for being “available, helpful, sympathetic” (on a scale of 1-7, with 1 being “unavailable, unhelpful, and unsympathetic”), while 28% of students rated instructors as a 6, and 34% of students a 5.[8]  The 2007 Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) showed faculty who teach first-year students seeing the student-faculty relationship in a similar, but slightly more positive light.  Eighteen percent of first-year faculty rated the quality of relationships with faculty members at 7, 36% gave a rating of 6, and 37% gave a rating of 5.  In addition, Table 11.3 shows that 89.6% of faculty/staff who teach first-year students responded with high or very high when asked, “For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you make yourself available to students outside of class?” (Q66), while 71.6% of students responded with often or always when asked a similar question on their corresponding survey, “For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor make him/herself available outside of class?” (Q63) (See Table 11.4). 

 

On the FoE Faculty/Staff survey results reported in Table 11.3, faculty scored the institution above EBI’s goal mean (4.34) in communicating their academic expectations in the question, “For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you communicate your academic expectations to students?” (Q61), while students scored the institution slightly lower (3.87) but still above the goal mean, to the question, “For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor communicate academic expectations to you?” (Q61)  Faculty/staff also rated their encouraging of students to ask questions in class higher (mean of 4.57) when asked, “For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you encourage students to ask questions in class?” (Q62) than students (mean of 3.99) did when asked, “For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor encourage you to ask questions in class?” (Q57)  However, in both cases, responses were well above the goal mean.  Faculty/staff and student responses also differed on how often faculty encourage students to participate in course-related, out-of-class events, with faculty/staff having a mean of 3.80 for the question, “For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you encourage students to participate in course-related out-of-class events (e.g., lectures, concerts, exhibits)?” (Q65) and students having a mean of 3.46 when asked, “For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor encourage you to participate in course-related, out-of-class events (e.g., lectures, concerts, exhibits)?” (Q62)

 

The open-ended questions on the FoE Faculty/Staff survey provide some information on the current teaching strategies, other than lecture, which faculty/staff report using in their lower-division classes in an attempt to get students engaged (see Appendix K), as seen below in the order in which they were mentioned by students.

  • student typingSkill-based activities (e.g., demonstrations, presentations, group projects, labs): 30% (n = 247).
  • Writing activities (e.g., research projects, reflections, journals): 23% (n = 183).
  • Application activities (e.g., problem-based case studies): 20% (n = 165).
  • Class discussion: 15% (n = 120).
  • Visual activities (e.g., videos, films): 10% (n = 77).
  • Portfolios: 2% (n = 20).

Although, according to the FoE Faculty/Staff survey results, UNI faculty/staff believe that in first-year courses they do attempt to engage students in learning, there is no official documentation as to which of their teaching strategies actually increase engagement of first-year students in the institution’s high-enrollment courses.  UNI NSSE data from 2009 provides more insight on student engagement in learning, as reflected in the statistics below.  These data suggest that students perceive themselves as being somewhat or very engaged in their learning,[9] with the exception of class preparation (Q1f):

  • 48% sometimes asked questions in class, while 49% often or very often did (Q1a).
  • 46% sometimes made a class presentation, 43% often or very often did (Q1b).
  • 41% sometimes prepared two or more drafts of a paper or assignment before turning it in, while 47% often or very often did (Q1c).
  • 24% sometimes worked on a paper or project that required integrating ideas or information from various sources, while 74% often or very often did (Q1d).
  • 60% sometimes come to class without completing readings or assignments, while 20% often or very often did (Q1f).
  • 42% sometimes worked with other students on projects during class, while 50% often or very often did (Q1g).
  • 44% sometimes worked with classmates outside of class to prepare class assignments, while 47% often or very often did (Q1h).
  • 41% sometimes put together ideas or concepts from different courses when completing assignments or during class discussions, while 53% often or very often did (Q1i).
  • 23% sometimes participated in a community-based project as part of a regular course, while 9% often or very often did (Q1k).
  • 19% sometimes used e-mail to communicate with an instructor, while 80% often or very often did (Q1m).
  • 47% sometimes talked about career plans with a faculty member or advisor, while 33% often or very often did (Q1o).
  • 37% sometimes discussed ideas from their readings or classes with faculty members outside of class, while 18% often or very often did (Q1p).
  • 22% sometimes worked with faculty members on activities other than coursework (committees, orientation, student life activities, etc.), while 12% often or very often did (Q1s).

Course Outcomes

The Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress (MAPP) testing is currently in place for assessing student learning in the Liberal Arts Core.  The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is also currently used to assess Liberal Arts Core outcomes.  The learning outcomes measured by MAPP and NSSE are for first-year students—i.e., students with fewer than 30 semester hours of credit completed;  MAPP is administered during a first-year student’s fall semester before their first year at UNI has been completed; NSSE is administered during the spring semester of the first year at UNI.  The Office of Academic Assessment[10] posts survey data and organizes workshops for interested faculty and staff.  The committee found no additional evidence that the University makes systematic use of the survey data.

 

As noted earlier, syllabi across sections of the top five first-year enrolled courses (see Appendix J [CPI table] for a list of these courses) generally show consistent statements about desired learning outcomes, with a few exceptions.  The LAC has stated goals for each category, as well as working documents on course outcomes and assessments for each of the categories of courses.[11]  However, learning outcomes are not always measured within the high-enrollment courses, even during the regular LAC category reviews.  Also, the results and data from the LAC category reviews are not always distributed to LAC instructors, so it is not clear how the data from these reviews is used to improve the instructional quality of these classes.

 

There is not a set list of LAC courses that must be taken in a students’ first year at UNI, so it is difficult to set up a reliable method for data collection for learning outcomes for all first-year students.  Also, the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Act (PSEOA) in Iowa has impacted the institution’s goals and purposes in providing a common liberal arts education unique to UNI.  Fifty-three percent of first-year students arrive at UNI with college course credit, only 8% of which is Advanced Placement (AP) or CLEP credit.[12]  The original intent of the PSEOA was for high ability high school students who had exhausted rigorous high school courses to access college coursework.  Currently, however, students are taking college courses to satisfy core high school curriculum requirements and earning college credit at the same time. 

 

Faculty frequently express concerns related to students’ writing abilities.  NSSE data show that first-year students are required to complete writing assignments (see items 3c-3e below from Table 11.5).  Data from 2009 MAPP testing (Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress) show UNI student performance on the writing portion of the test to be fairly comparable to the performance nationwide with performance of students in master’s level institutions but with small percentages of students performing above the lowest defined level of proficiency (see Table 11.6 below).  While students are asked to write, they may not, however, be provided with enough specific instruction in writing processes or enough feedback on their writing.  For example, according to 2009 UNI NSSE data, 12% of first-year students reported they had never prepared two or more drafts of a paper or assignment before turning it in (Q1c) and only 47%  reported doing so often or very often.  While there is a single semester of required college-level writing instruction, the NSSE data may suggest little attention elsewhere to writing as a process involving several drafts. 


Table 11.5   NSSE 2009 Data on Writing Assignments for First-Year Students[13] 

During the current school year, about how many papers or reports of 

20+

papers

11-20

papers

5-10

papers

1-4

papers

None

3c. 20 pages or more have you written? 

1%

 2%

 3%

 7%

87%

3d. Between 5 and 19 pages have you written?

2%

4%

23%

54%

 18%

3e. Fewer than 5 pages have you written? 

 12%

26%

 35%

 27%

 1%


Table 11.6   2009 MAPP Data on Writing for Entering Freshmen 

PROFICIENCY CLASSIFICATION BY SKILL DIMENSION AND YEAR IN SCHOOL

 Skill Dimension

Year

Proficient

Marginal

Not Proficient

UNI

ETS

UNI

ETS

UNI

ETS

Writing, Level 1

 

First-year

62%

55%

29%

29%

9%

15%

Writing, Level 2

 

First-year

12%

12%

41%

33%

47%

55%

Writing, Level 3

 

First-year

4%

5%

20%

21%

76%

75%

ETS data for percentages of test-takers at each proficiency level are derived from MAPP testing of students in master’s (comprehensive) colleges and universities from July 2003 through July 2007.  The UNI data is from entering freshmen (0 hours completed) taking MAPP in fall 2009.[14] 

 

The College Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) Writing Essay test from ACT was administered on a pilot basis during the fall semester of 2008 and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) administered to UNI students in the spring semester of 2009 included an additional set of questions related to writing provided to NSSE by the Consortium for the Study of Writing in College.  Information from these two sources will provide more insight as to whether this is a pervasive problem that needs to be intentionally addressed or not and suggest ways in which student writing and the teaching of writing, inside and outside of the Liberal Arts Core, might be approached. 

 

Members of the Learning Dimension Committee who work both with the Academic Learning Center and with the College Writing and Research course were in favor of implementing a stronger Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program.  Such a program would focus on using writing as a means of inquiry and problem solving in several first-year courses.[15]  This could lead to an expanded Writing in the Disciplines (WID) program for all students.[16]

 

Courses with High D/F/W/I Rates

Currently, UNI does not have a system in place to identify the causes of high D/F/W/I for specific courses.  The D/F/W/I rates were examined for the following courses: College Writing and Research, Oral Communication, Humanities I, Introduction to Psychology, and World Geography.  However, there was no evidence that the institution is attempting to address the numbers of D/F/W/I grades through any intentional means.  Additionally, most departments do not share this information with faculty teaching these courses.

 

Ds and Fs are important indicators of engagement and can be used to initiate preventive action against academic suspension or withdrawal.  In the FoE faculty/staff survey (see Table 11.3), 54.7% of faculty/staff who teach first-year students responded high or very high to the question, “For your course(s) that enroll(s) first-year students, to what degree do you initiate communication, early in the term, with students who are performing poorly?” (Q64)  On the FoE student survey (see Table 11.4), students responded similarly, with 55% of students responding often or always to the question, “For the course you identified above, to what degree does the instructor provide prompt feedback about how well you are doing in the course?” (Q56)  NSSE 2009 results indicate that 45% of first-year students sometimes and 49% often or very often stated they received prompt oral or written feedback from faculty on their academic performance (Q1q); 49% sometimes discussed grades or assignments with an instructor, while 44% often or very often did (Q1n).[17]

 

Most efforts to assist students who are struggling in courses are focused on identifying problem areas at mid-semester and providing resources to assist students experiencing difficulty.  Advisors have the ability to review midterm grade reports, but there is little data available to determine how many actually access these data.  However, advisors in the Office of Academic Advising, who advise 42% of first-year students, do routinely access mid-term D and F grade reports and follow up with advisees, and the Department of Residence and Dean of Students communicate personally with all students who receive a D and F notice at mid-term.[18]  Additionally, advisors of specific sub-populations of students, including athletes, and students participating in Federal TRIO programs, intervene with students who receive these notices. 

 

While there are a variety of efforts underway to provide support and assistance for students experiencing difficulty, there is little evidence regarding the efforts of academic departments working towards improving success in their classes for what might be considered problem courses or courses with specific sections that appear to be problematic.  Exceptions include College of Business Advising Center tutoring efforts specific to College of Business courses, and Academic Learning Center tutoring efforts specific to Liberal Arts Core courses.[19] Since we know that two of the highest enrolled courses have D/F/W/I rates of 26 and 25% respectively (i.e., Introduction to Psychology and Humanities I) and often have sections of 120 or more, however, solutions developed at the department level alone may not be enough since these larger sections are sometimes mandated because of economic demands.

 

Placement

Course placement for first-year students in their first semester is influenced primarily by course availability.  Since first-year students register after current students, providing a sufficient number of sections of courses for the first-year student presents an annual challenge.  Different strategies are employed annually to stretch course selections to meet the demand.  Sections are set aside for Jump Start and Student Support Services first-year students.  The Office of Academic Advising works with academic departments, deans, the Provost, and the Office of the Registrar to ask for funding for additional sections so that students have a distribution of courses.

 

Students who have not completed UNI minimum admission student orientationrequirements of four years of English (including one year of composition) and three years of Mathematics (including the equivalent of algebra, geometry, and advanced algebra) are required to take a developmental course to meet these deficiencies (i.e., College Writing Basics; Intermediate Algebra).  While few students are admitted who are required to take these courses, there are not enough sections offered to meet the needs of students required to take remedial courses, nor are there enough spaces in these remedial courses to allow additional students who may benefit from remedial preparation based on ACT college readiness benchmarks in English and mathematics.  Since preparatory writing and algebra courses are regarded as remedial, they are not seen as a priority when other course funding is limited.

 

There are some opportunities to provide academic challenge for high-achieving students.  Honors students currently do not take honors seminars until their second year; however, there are several sections of LAC honors courses available. Contracting for an honors class is available if an honors student can make arrangements for a professor to offer additional honors-level work for a course not identified as an honors section. There is a Presidential Scholar Seminar for a cohort of 20 first-year Presidential Scholars, which is a small, select group of honors students.

 

The FoE student survey questions, “To what degree is the course appropriate for your level of academic preparation regarding the following areas: writing skills; reading skills; library research skills; mathematical skills; computing skills?” (Q47-51; see Table 11.7), suggest students believe they were well prepared to meet the necessary requirements of a current class.  Means ranging from 2.97 – 3.12 on a 5-point scale, suggests that UNI is doing a good job in this area, as it is right on target with FoE’s goal mean of 3.0 on these particular questions.  It should be noted that the goal mean here is different than the 3.5 benchmark for the other survey questions, since coursework that is too easy would not be desirable.  There is not a consistent method being used to determine students’ deficiencies other than ACT scores and high school transcripts.


Table 11.7 FoE Student Survey – Course Placement

Question

 #

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

 

Think about the last class that you attended prior to taking this survey.  Please answer the following questions based on your experiences in this course during this term.

 

 

 

 

47

To what degree is the course appropriate for your level of academic preparation regarding the following areas: Writing skills?

14.5%

62.7%

22.8%

3.10

48

To what degree is the course appropriate for your level of academic preparation regarding the following areas: Reading skills?

16.3%

63.5%

20.3%

3.06

49

To what degree is the course appropriate for your level of academic preparation regarding the following areas: Library research skills?

16.8%

59.5%

23.7%

3.10

50

To what degree is the course appropriate for your level of academic preparation regarding the following areas: Mathematical skills?

25.8%

51.2%

23%

2.97

51

To what degree is the course appropriate for your level of academic preparation regarding the following areas: Computing skills?

14.2%

61.4%

24.4%

3.12

1=Too difficult; 2=Difficult; 3=About right; 4=Easy; 5=Too easy


 

FoE student survey results on advising and placement are described in Table 11.8.  Students completing the survey scored academic advising at or higher than the goal of 3.5 in discussing: “To what degree have faculty/staff advisors discussed what it takes for you to be academically successful?” (Q15); “To what degree have faculty/staff advisors helped you select courses?” (Q13); and “To what degree have faculty/staff explained the requirements for specific academic majors?”(Q12)  Responses were below the target mean when discussing future enrollment plans represented by the question, “To what degree have faculty/staff advisors discussed your future enrollment plans (e.g., stay, drop-out, transfer)?” (Q16)


Table 11.8 FoE Student Survey – Advising and Placement

Question

#

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

12

To what degree have faculty/staff advisors explained the requirements for specific academic majors? 

10.6%

28.5%

60.8%

3.68

13

To what degree have faculty/staff advisors helped you select courses? 

16.3%

29.5%

54.2%

3.55

14

To what degree have faculty/staff advisors discussed how college can help you achieve your life goals?

16.1%

33%

50.9%

3.48

15

To what degree have faculty/staff advisors discussed what it takes for you to be academically successful? 

11.4%

27.7%

60.9%

3.67

16

To what degree have faculty/staff advisors discussed your future enrollment plans (e.g., stay, drop-out, transfer)? 

28.5%

29.6%

41.9%

3.15

1=Not at all; 2=Slight; 3=Moderate; 4=High; 5=Very High

 

Table 11.9 below describes NSSE student data about advising for first-year students and seniors. The committee was pleased with the percentage of first-year students who reported excellent or good evaluations of the quality of academic advising received at UNI.


Table 11.9 NSSE 2009 – Student Attitudes Toward Advising

NSSE  Item

Freshmen

Seniors

1 o. Talked about career plans with a faculty member or advisor.

33% often or very often talked about career plans.

41% often or very often talked about career plans

10 b. The extent UNI provides the support needed to help succeed academically.

79% report receiving very much or quite a bit of support

75% report receiving very much or quite a bit of support

12. Evaluate the quality of academic advising received at UNI.

81% report excellent or good

72% report excellent or good

 

Out-of-Class Learning Opportunities

Students hanging ou in the dormOut-of-class learning is a growth opportunity for both the Student Affairs and Academic Affairs Divisions.  First-year housing, peer academic advising, and assessment of norms and programming to promote citizenship and scholarship all contribute to development outside the classroom.  According to the FoE student survey administered during first-year students’ first semester on campus, 11.8% of the students surveyed indicated they were very involved in campus-sponsored, out-of-class activities; 51% said they were somewhat involved; 27.6% said they were rarely involved; and 9.6% said they had no involvement in answer to the question, “Which best describes your level of activity in campus-sponsored, out-of-class activities?” (Q91)  Currently, however, UNI’s student affairs initiatives and functions (other than residence life and orientation) are without sufficient documentation specific to the learning outcomes of first-year students.

 

The Department of Residence (DOR) has a deliberate and research-based plan for education in the residence halls.  The primary focus is on social success, citizenship, and scholarship.  This is done through residence education programs, residence education plans designed by residence life coordinators, strategic work plans, timely reflection, and measurements of success.  Calendars are comprehensive and include social and academic support programming.[20]

 

The University regularly collects data on orientation activities.  According to the New Student Orientation Survey administered in fall 2009,[21] 94.8% of first-year students surveyed who attended a two-day orientation session felt that they had learned about opportunities for campus involvement to a very high (26.5%; 167), high (45.3%; 286), or medium (23.0%; 145) degree.  Forty-nine percent of respondents indicated that, six weeks into their first semester as a UNI student, they were either very (15.1%; 95) or somewhat (34.2%; 215) successful at getting involved on campus.

 

There are over 250 student organizations, as well as a leadership center, and many other resources outside of residence life aimed at providing students with co-curricular learning experiences (e.g., athletics, music, theater).  However, there is no existing documentation about which specific activities/organizations first-year students choose.  There is indication that the majority of first-year students are participating in some out-of-class learning opportunities.  NSSE data from 2009[22] indicated 32% of first-year students attended an art exhibit, play, dance, music, theater, or other performance often or very often (Q6a), while 51% said they sometimes did these things; 70% of first-year students exercised or participated in physical fitness activities often or very often (Q6b), while 25%  said they sometimes did these things; and 35% of first-year students participated in activities to enhance their spirituality often or very often (Q6c), while 28% said they sometimes did these things.  According to the same dataset (Q9d), 30% of first-year students indicated they participated in co-curricular activities 0 hours a week; 38% of first-year students responded 1-5 hours a week; the remaining students’ responses (approximately 33% reported greater than 6 hours or more per week spent in such activities (range 6 – 30+).

 

There are a number of Academic Affairs programs and initiatives that also provide support for out-of-class learning.  For example, the Rod Library Reference and Instructional Services Department provides research consultations, database and information retrieval instruction, online research guides, and tutorials in various Web and video formats.[23]  The Academic Learning Center houses several initiatives to support student learning,[24] such as Student Support Services, Jump Start, Academic Achievement & Retention Services, tutoring, and academic mentoring.  The Academic Learning Center also houses Athletics Academic Services, the Reading & Learning Center, the Math Center, and the Writing Center.

 

The Office of Academic Advising has a very well-documented program in terms of learning outcomes for first-year students.  The Office has assembled a clear and thorough summary of outcomes and assessments for first-year students advised through the Intake Model used by select academic departments in all of the colleges except the College of Education and College of Business Administration, which serves 43% of first-year students.  First-year students are surveyed on their participation in this advising model in the fall semester.[25]  In addition to coordinating an intake model for first-year students, the Office of Academic Advising works with Residence Life Coordinators who serve as advisors for 10-15 new first-year students each year, as well as supervise, train, and coordinate the Peer Advisor in Residence (PAIR) student activities in the Department of Residence.[26]  The two departments collaborate in developmental activities to meet the goals and outcomes of both areas.[27]

 

As seen in Table 11.10, students scored above the 3.5 mean goal set by EBI on the FoE student survey on the question, “To what degree has this institution provided opportunities for involvement in out-of-class activities that interested you?” (mean: 3.69; Q11), and, “To what degree has this institution communicated the importance of out-of-class activities?” (mean: 3.63; Q10)  However, the survey does not indicate how the information provided affects student’s choice to participate in learning activities.  Table 11.3 indicates that faculty rate UNI below the goal mean (2.96/5.0) on the question “To what degree does this institution assure that all first-year students experience out of class learning opportunities?” (Q48)  This suggests, at minimum, that faculty should be made more aware of the institution’s efforts to provide out-of-class learning activities.


Table 11.10 FoE Student Survey – Out-of-Class Learning

Question

#

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

10

To what degree has this institution communicated the importance of out-of-class activities? 

13%

27.4%

59.6%

3.63

11

To what degree has this institution provided opportunities for involvement in out-of-class activities that interested you? 

11.4%

29.7%

58.9%

3.69

33

To what degree do you understand how this institution is organized so that you know where to go if you want to be involved with an institution-sponsored organization/event?

20.5%

31.7%

47.7%

3.38

1=Not at all; 2=Slight; 3=Moderate; 4=High; 5=Very High

62

To what degree does the instructor [of a class identified previously] encourage you to participate in course-related, out-of-class events (e.g., lectures, concerts, exhibits)?

23.4%

24%

52.6%

3.46

1=Not at all; 2=Seldom; 3=Sometimes; 4=Often; 5=Always


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Opportunities and Challenges

 

 

  • As the University’s new strategic plan is drafted and a University steering committee reviews the LAC, there is an opportunity for campus-wide discussion of what an undergraduate education should consist of, and how to best achieve those learning outcomes.  There should be a consideration of the needs of first-year students in this discussion.
  • While there does seem to be an attempt to form courses around at least implicit goals, there is a need for greater coordination between course goals and other forms of data, such as student outcome and institutional assessments.  Such institutional attention to learning will evidence a commitment to UNI’s mission of putting “students first.”
  • Increased funding for faculty development may improve the instruction first-year students receive and, as a result, better engagement of first-year students in LAC courses.  Faculty need to have their teaching of first-year students placed “front and center” in their educational mission at the University and receive support for doing so.
  • The new student information system being implemented in the next two years may provide an opportunity to improve data collection and reporting of students’ academic progress, particularly in the development of improved “early warning” notifications.
  • The University faces a big challenge in the transfer system, namely that students can take dual-credit high school/community college courses that transfer into UNI.[28]  The University cannot guarantee the outcomes of these courses.  During the 2009-2010 academic year, the University will undertake a follow-up Foundations of Excellence® self-study of transfer students, to determine the specific academic and social needs of these students.
  • With the addition of questions from the Consortium for the Study of College Writing to the 2009 administration of NSSE (and the 2010 NSSE), UNI has the opportunity to investigate what about writing still needs to be addressed in the curriculum and co-curriculum.  Based on the findings of these special questions, UNI may find that there needs to be more of an emphasis on writing across the curriculum.
  • The decentralized nature of everyday operations at UNI can make collaboration challenging.  However, strengths exist in orientation, DOR programs, academic advising, the Academic Learning Center, and among individual faculty.  Greater communication and shared goals between institutional structures are needed as well as institutional leadership to continue such conversations. 

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Recommended Actions

  1. Establish Specific Learning Goals and Outcomes for the First Year across both Academic and Student Affairs, and Develop Assessment Procedures to Measure Level of Achievement of Intended Outcomes
         a. Develop common first-year student learning outcomes in academic and student affairs initiatives, and
             functions that will transcend to all appropriate departments on campus.
         b. Develop a coordinated assessment plan for academic and student affairs to measure the first-year
             student learning outcomes.
         c. Establish an organizing body, consisting of both faculty and staff, to oversee the first year, and increase
             communication and collaboration between academic and student affairs personnel.
  2. Improve the Liberal Arts Core to Enhance Learning during the First Year
         a. Identify which LAC courses should be completed during the first year.
         b. Ensure all courses have common learning objectives and methods to measure learning.
         c. Explore the options for a tiered LAC to allow for the possibility of linked courses and learning
             communities over a student’s career at UNI.
         d. Fund the current LAC so students can complete the core competencies of writing, reading, math, and
             oral communication in their first year.
         e. Explore the possibility of implementing a stronger Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program in
             regards to the first year that might ultimately lead to a later effort with Writing in the Disciplines (WID).
  3. Improve Academic Support Services for First-Year Students
         a. Increase funding for academic support services to improve their ability to serve larger numbers of
             students.
         b. Fund additional sections of developmental math and writing courses.
         c. Investigate the main causes of high D/F/W/I rates for first-year courses.
         d. Institute mandatory monitoring and follow up by faculty and academic departments for courses with high
             D/F/W/I rates.
         e. Institute mandatory pre-midterm reporting to identify students who need assistance, and simplify the
             reporting process for faculty to ensure one easy method of reporting.

[7] http://www.uni.edu/accreditation/sites/default/files/Oral%20Communication%20course%20packet_0.doc

[10] http://www.uni.edu/assessment/

[13] https://www.uni.edu/assessment/data/documents/2008nsseresponses_000.pdf

[16] http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/WAC/

[19] http://www.uni.edu/unialc/index.html

[22] http://www.uni.edu/assessment/data/documents/2009nsseresponses.pdf

[25] http://www.uni.edu/accreditation/sites/default/files/Academic%20Advising%20Intake%20Outcome%20Assessmenrt%202008-2009_3.pdf