Welcome to 2016! It’s great to see all of you scurrying around campus.
Earlier this fall, I shared the first set of findings from our four-year assessment of Augustana students’ motivational orientations. As you might remember, this is the first set of results from our institutional outcomes assessment protocol in which we rotate through all of the college-wide student learning outcomes so that each year we have a new set of freshman-to-senior results for a different learning outcome. Moreover, because of the student experience data we collect over four years, we also have ways to identify experiences that appear to influence student gains (or losses) on those outcomes.
Intrinsic motivation is a key element of our students’ intrapersonal development. We talk about this attribute most specifically when we refer to the importance of a liberal arts education cultivating our students as life-long learners. Interestingly, although we aspire to strengthen our students’ orientation toward intrinsic motivation, the results of our four-year assessment revealed a change between the average freshman score and the average senior score was not statistically significant. In other words, our students’ orientation toward intrinsic motivation didn’t change – even though other research on motivational orientations suggests that individuals become more inclined toward intrinsic motivation as they get older.
Even though the average scores didn’t move like we would have hoped, there were certainly students who showed statistically significant gains in their orientation toward intrinsic motivation. So what makes those students different from the rest? And more importantly, are there lessons that we can learn from those students’ experience that we could apply more broadly?
To find answers to those questions, we designed an analysis that would test the impact of a variety of Augustana experiences. We tested the impact of curricular experiences, advising experiences, pre-college demographics and values, and co-curricular experiences. Sure enough, students who showed significant positive growth in their inclination toward intrinsic motivation also had two experiences in common, experiences that we ought to consider cultivating more broadly as we continue to improve the quality of the Augustana experiences.
First, the nature of the students’ co-curricular experiences produced a robust and statistically significant positive effect on the inclination toward intrinsic motivation. Specifically, as students more strongly agreed with the statement, “My out-of-class experiences have helped me develop a deeper understanding of myself,” they exhibited stronger gains in their inclination toward intrinsic motivation. Importantly, our findings suggest that mere participation in co-curricular experiences wasn’t enough. Instead, the effect came from the students’ perceived impact of those co-curricular experiences.
Second, students’ engagement in Symposium Day also produced a statistically significant, albeit smaller, effect. As students’ more strongly agreed with the statement, “Symposium Day activities influenced the way I now think about real world issues,” they made larger gains in their inclination toward intrinsic motivation. This is an item where the average score has increased each year since Symposium Day was introduced, even though senior survey results indicate that there is still substantial room for improvement (42.4% of 2015 seniors disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement).
Somewhat surprisingly, neither the nature of the students’ classroom experience or advising experiences generated any effect on an orientation toward intrinsic motivation. Likewise, we accounted for sex, race, and socioeconomic status in our analysis and none of those variables produced a statistically significant effect.
So what might we make of these findings? First (as if we needed more evidence at this point), out-of-class experiences matter, a lot. And it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. This is exactly the philosophy that undergirds the entire integration emphasis in the Augustana 2020 strategic plan. Students need to engage in experiences that help them grow in important ways. That kind of development doesn’t happen automatically. And every experience doesn’t necessarily produce the same type of growth, or any growth at all. This finding seems to re-emphasize the value of designing co-curricular experiences so that key teachable moments are most likely to occur, then prodding students to reflect on those moments with an eye toward how their own responses might teach them something about themselves.
Second, we’ve begun to notice some anecdotal suggestions of the educational value of Symposium Day and this finding presents further evidence that Symposium Day can, and is, impacting the growth of our students in important ways. One key take-away from this study reiterates that participation is necessary but not sufficient. The impact of Symposium Day in this study appears to come from the degree to which students felt that the experience shaped the way that they think about real world events. In other words, the value of Symposium Day in the context of this study is in the applicability of the learning and the way in which the experience can inspire students to reflect on their perceptions of real world events in the context of their Symposium Day experience. This suggests that all of the ways in which faculty and staff can link the curricular or co-curricular work they are doing with students to elements of Symposium Day may well be producing more than a deeper understanding of content knowledge.
As we build toward the next Symposium Day on January 20th, I hope you will find more ways to connect your work with students to the events and presentations scheduled for that day. And as we continue to reassess and redesign our students’ out-of-class experiences to maximize their educational and developmental benefit, I hope you will look for ways to link these experiences to our students’ understanding of themselves.
Make it a good (albeit cold) day,