Delicious AmbiguityWhen thing get really hectic, I have a hard time remembering what month it is. Judging by the snow falling outside as a write this first column of the spring term, it's not just me. Fortunately, we all have our anchoring mechanisms - our teddy bear or our safe space that keeps us grounded. For me, it's the Wabash National Study senior data collection that will occur in March and April. At long last, it's time to find out from our seniors how their Augustana experience impacted their development on many of the primary intended outcomes of a liberal arts education. (I know. Own it!)
I believe that the data we gather from the Wabash National Study could be the most important data that Augustana has collected in its 150+ year history. I'd like to give you three reasons why I make this claim, and three ways that I need your help.
First, the Wabash National Study measures individual gains across a range of specific outcomes. Instead of taking a snapshot of a group of freshmen and a snapshot of a different group of seniors and assuming that those two sets of findings represent change over time, in this study we will have actually followed the same group of students from the first year to the fourth year. Furthermore, instead of tracking only one outcome, this study tracks 15 different outcomes, allowing us to examine how gains on one outcome might relate to gains on another outcome.
Second, the Wabash National Study is the first and only study that allows us to figure out which student experiences significantly impact our students' change on each outcome measure. In other words, from this data we can determine which experiences improve gains, which experiences inhibit gains, and which experiences seem to have little educational impact. Furthermore, this data allows us to determine whether the gains we identify on each outcome are a function of pre-college characteristics (like intellectual aptitude) or a function of an experience that happened during college (like meaningful student-faculty interaction). This gives us the kind of information on which we can more confidently base decisions about program design, college policies, and the way we link student experiences to optimize learning.
Third, as we continue to try to more fully embody a college that assesses itself based on what we do rather than what we have, this data can provide a foundation as we think about clearly articulating the kind of institution we want to be in the future and how we are best able to get there. In the past decade, we have collected bits and pieces of this kind of data from NSSE, CLA, and various Teagle-sponsored studies - all important evidence on which we have made critical decisions that have improve the quality of the education we provide. This time around, we will have all of that data in one study, allowing us to answer many of the questions that we need to answer now; questions that have previously been exceedingly difficult answer because the applicable data was scattered across different, often incompatible, studies.
But just because we are going to try to collect this data from our seniors over the next two months doesn't mean we automatically get to have our cake and eat it, too. Our seniors have to volunteer to provide this data. Although we have some pretty decent incentives ($25 gift cards to the book store and group incentives for some student groups), this thing could be a monumental belly flop if no one shows up to fill out our surveys. This brings me to how you can help.
- Make it your mission to tell every senior with whom you interact to participate in the survey. We are going to invite them by email, announce this study at various student venues, and hopefully have some articles in the Observer. But the students need to be encouraged to participate at every turn.
- Tell them why they should participate! It's not enough to ask them to do it. They need to know that this will fundamentally shape the way that we construct Augustana College for the next generation of students. They can play a massive role in that effort just by showing up and filling out some surveys. Oh, if the rest of life was so easy!
- Remind them to participate. We will have four different opportunities for seniors to provide data. We will give $25 gift cards to the first 100 students at each session - so if they all wait to participate, most of them won't get the incentives we would like to give them. The dates, times, and locations of these sessions are:
a. Monday, March 12, 6-8:30 PM in Science 102
b. Monday, March 26, 6-8:30 PM in Olin Auditorium
c. Thursday, March 29, 6-8:30 PM in Science 102
d. Thursday, April 26, 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM in John Deere Lecture Hall
Thank you so much for your help. Just to let you know ahead of time, I'm not going to shut up about this data collection effort until we give away all of the gift cards or we run out of data collection dates. Yes, it's that important.
Make it a good day,