Student survey provides evidence of learning
More than 6,000 Purdue student participated during Spring 2013 in the SERU (Student Experience in Research University) Survey. That vast collection of data has recently become available to analysts, and in the coming weeks we'll share a few observations based on SERU data.
The survey asks students to evaluate their skills in a variety of important areas, including critical thinking. They are asked separately about their abilities before coming to Purdue, and again at the time of the survey. This chart shows the shift in self-appraisal. Most students thought they were Fair or Good before coming to Purdue. The same cohort of students now say their critical thinking ranges from Good to Excellent.
Of course, the effect of college ought to be cumulative. Students in higher classes ought to gain more from their longer experience. If that were the case regarding critical thinking gains, students in higher classes would report larger increases in their critical thinking skills. And that is what the SERU data show. The following chart shows the numeric change on a six-point scale. The SERU survey asked students to self-rate on a scale of 1=Very poor; 2=Poor; 3=Fair; 4=Good; 5=Very good; 6=Excellent. A student who changed from Fair to Very good would have a change of +2.
Ninety percent of First-Year or Freshmen students reported either no change or a modest improvement. But the higher classes show a progressive increase. Only 6.9% of First-Year students say they increased by 2 or more increments. The comparable number for Sophomores is 12.3%, for Juniors it is 18.5%, and for Seniors it is 31.5%. The share reporting no change or a decline falls from 48% among First-Year students to only 23% of Seniors.
What is especially important is the baseline for students' self-assessment. The preceding chart shows (correctly) that upper-level students report greater change during their college years. But the difference comes from a lower baseline. First-Year students tend to think they were pretty good at the outset -- older students reflecting on their progress say they knew little at the same initial stage of their college careers. This is true not just for the Critical Thinking outcomes shown above but for other important measures as well.
When students were asked to assess their proficiency at "Working on a Team to Accomplish a Goal," First-Year and Senior students reported similar outcomes in the SERU. First-Year students had a mean score of 4.73 on the 6-point scale -- Seniors' mean score was 4.80. As above, Seniors reported more substantial in-college growth. But the difference was their concept of what they knew when they started. Forty-six percent of First-Year students said they were already "Very good" or "Excellent" at teamwork before they began college. Only 19.5% of Seniors said that.
Readers will note that students' self-appraisal is not the most rigorous kind of assessment. Students don't always make a valid appraisal of their own accomplishments. Efforts to measure students' learning and development in more rigorous ways are ongoing and are discussed here.
Purdue's Division of Student Affairs does assessment on its programs, on the effects of co-curricular activities on student success, and on academic outcomes in general. Contact Andy Zehner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 46743 to find out more.