Writing items on NSSE -- preparing for meeting at WPA conference to collaborate with NSSE to enhance its coverage of writing

This post has a two parts: "Background and problem/opportunity" and "Please reply to this question...."

Background and problem/opportunity. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has been used by over 1100 higher-ed institutions to help them "identify aspects of the undergraduate experience inside and outside the classroom that can be improved through changes in policies and practices more consistent with good practices in undergraduate education" (http://nsse.iub.edu/html/quick_facts.cfm; a good place to start learning about NSSE). It's becoming an increasingly important instrument used by administrators to make decisions about undergraduate education. In recent postings to the WPA and WAC listservs, many WPAs indicated that their campuses used NSSE and that their upper administrators considered its evidence important.

Here's the problem & opportunity. The current edition of NSSE includes just six items on writing, and most of these focus on the amount of writing. (See the next part of this post for a list of the items.) The good news is, Bob Gonyea is interested in improving the way writing is measured on future versions of NSSE, and is eager to work with WPAs at the upcoming WPA Conference in Tempe (see http://wpacouncil.org/conference2007) and afterward to come up a list of 20 - 30 questions to test in Spring 2008, a subset of which may be included in the next edition of NSSE.

Bob Gonyea (Associate Director, Research & Analysis, at NSSE), believes more and better writing items will improve the NSSE; the idea that the amount and quality of undergraduates' writing would be associated with engagement has, he thinks, good face validity.

To this end Bob will be in Tempe and will spend about 3 hours of conference time with us. First, just after lunch on Saturday (the last full day of the conference), he will give a fairly brief talk on NSSE, how it works, how questions are made and tested, and how NSSE might be improved if it more effectively surveyed students' writing experiences. It will be followed by a 105-minute working group, where we can pound out some details. The session will be open to all. There will be other concurrent sessions scheduled but probably none with a WAC focus.

This opportunity may lead to a NSSE instrument that provides strong evidence that shows (for the first time at a national level) how writing can make a difference in student engagement and learning.

Shirley Rose informs us that the NSSE session is tentatively scheduled for Saturday afternoon, July 14, from 1:45-4:30. It will cross two concurrent session times, 1:45-3:00 and 3:00-4:30. Refreshments will be available 2:45-3:30. so the group can take a break sometime during that window. there might be some slight adjustment to the time, but it's certain that the workshop will be Saturday afternoon.

Please respond to these two questions: 1) What in the current set of NSSE writing questions seems effective? 2) What would you like to see more of? Let's try to keep this conversation (at least for now) on this WPA blog, so please respond to this blog post. Later, we will probably want to throw it open to the WPA listserv. And perhaps we can re-evaluate whether this blog is the best way to communicate.

Here are the six items (go to http://nsse.iub.edu/html/survey_instruments_2007.cfm to see the entire instrument):

In your experience at your institution during the current school year, about how often have you done each of the following? (Very often, Often, Sometimes, Never)

  • (rewropap) Prepared two or more drafts of a paper or assignment before turning it in
  • (integrat) Worked on a paper or project that required integrating ideas or information from various sources

During the current school year, about how much reading and writing have you done? (None, 1-4, 5-10, 11-20, More than 20)

  • ((writemor) During current school year …. number of written papers or reports of 20 pages or more
  • (writemid) During current school year …. number of written papers or reports between 5 and 19 pages
  • (writesml) During the current school year … number of written papers or reports of fewer than 5 pages

To what extent has your experiences at this institution contributed to your knowledge, skills, and personal development in the following areas? (Very much, Quite a bit, Some, Very little)

  • (gnwrite) Writing clearly and effectively