Pilot project measures student engagement

June 2010


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Ako Aotearoa’s PETER COOLBEAR, and HAMISH COATES of the Australian Council for Educational Research are adapting a student engagement survey tool for the tertiary sector

Measuring student engagement in their studies is a challenge for any institution, and finding accurate tools for doing so has largely fallen to universities.

Last December, Ako Aotearoa and the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) met with representatives of the institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITP) sector to discuss piloting a student engagement project previously used by universities in the United States.

It is the first time the New Zealand ITP sector will take part in a national study of student engagement, and 11 institutions have put their hands up. The pilot begins this year.

The Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE), designed and managed by ACER, was developed to stimulate evidence-focused conversations about students’ engagement in university study.

Shaped from the North American National Survey of Student Engagement, the AUSSE builds on methodology validated over four decades.

Dr Peter Coolbear believes systematic collection of evidence using proven, internationally validated tools is well overdue in New Zealand and this is a critical next step in the development of a systematic approach to the improvement of tertiary teaching and learning.

“Such data will be hugely valuable in institutional self-assessment processes and in assisting institutions in their decisions about how best to support their students,” Coolbear says.

Hamish Coates, ACER principal research fellow and director of AUSSE, says the student engagement survey reveals important insights into students’ studies, giving institutions key information to better support, engage and retain students.

“The information helps institutions support student learning and development, determine the value added by the tertiary experience, manage resources, monitor academic standards and learning outcomes, and monitor programmes and services,” Coates says.

“Collecting feedback from students themselves is beneficial in that it provides key insights to what tertiary students are actually doing.” While the data sets are owned by each institution, data collected can be benchmarked against aggregated data for tertiary education institutions internationally.

Both organisations believe AUSSE provides information imperative to ensuring the quality and productivity of the higher education system.

The 2009 administration of AUSSE surveyed more than 30,000 students from 35 Australian and New Zealand universities. The results were released in May.

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Ausse data

The AUSSE provides data on 13 dimensions of the learning experience:

  • student perceptions on six areas of learning – academic challenge, active learning, student and staff interactions, enriching educational experiences, supportive learning environment, work integrated learning;
  • and seven outcome measures – higher order thinking, general learning outcomes, individual and social development, average overall grade, departure intentions, overall satisfaction, career readiness.