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Posted at 1:22 PM ET, 11/ 9/2009

Is the gold standard of higher ed best practices flawed?

By Valerie Strauss

The supposed gold standard on best practices in higher education was released today and it says that more colleges and universities are exposing more kids to high quality learning experiences. That sounds good--unless you believe the author of a new look at the engagement report, which questions the survey’s methodology and its conclusions.

The annual report from the National Survey of Student Engagement was released today with results from a survey taken this year of 360,00 students attending 617 U.S. institutions of higher education. The report, called “Assessment for Improvement: Tracking Student Engagement Over Time,” also looks at trends going back to 2004 at more than 200 schools.

The findings include:
--41 percent of institutions showed positive trends on at least one quality measure for first-year students, and 28 percent did so for seniors.
--For freshman, two benchmarks of effective educational practices saw the largest number of institutions with steady improvement: active and collaborative learning, and student/faculty interaction.

But along comes Associate Professor of Research and Evaluation Stephen R. Porter of Iowa State University to question the whole study. Porter presented a paper at last week’s annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education in Vancouver that essentially says that the practice of asking students to evaluate best practices is seriously flawed because they may not understand the terms used in the questions.

Porter discusses other problems with the methodology as well, which, incidentally, is used by many researchers. He said he chose to look at the NSSE because it has widespread impact across higher education, unlike most research papers published in academic journals.

The website Inside Higher Education presents the whole issue with several postings that are good reading. Take a look.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 9, 2009; 1:22 PM ET
Categories:  Higher Education  | Tags:  higher education, student engagement  
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