When students are actively and deeply involved in their education, they have a better educational experience, said John H. Schuh, Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership and Chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies in the College of Education.
On Tuesday, May 14, Dr. Schuh spoke at the 6th Annual Learning Communities Institute to an audience of nearly 150 students, faculty and staff about lessons learned from Project Documenting Effective Education Practices, or Project DEEP. Project DEEP, sponsored by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), offers an in-depth look at how well institutions engage students in learning.
The Project DEEP research team uses case study methods to look closely at about 20 colleges and universities which have higher-than-predicted graduation rates and better-than-predicted scores on the five NSSE national benchmarks of effective educational practice.
Dr. Schuh said that one of the most important lessons that can be taken from Project DEEP is that student involvement doesn't mean the same thing at every institution.
"The universities with top performing students know there isn't a magic bullet for engaging students," said Schuh.
How a college engages its students must be tailored to the student body. The key is for faculty and administrators to know their students: who they are, where they came from, and where they hope to go. Faculty should ask what motivates and inspires the students who are attracted to the institution, what types of careers do they plan to follow, and what specific issues are important to them?
Once there is a good understanding of the students, Schuh said, successful institutions have a plan to engage them. For example, colleges which attract students preparing for post-secondary education may best engage learners through academic rigor. At universities where students are not fixed on any specific career path, service-learning might be used as a successful engagement method.
Schuh said that no matter what the method, the one thing that remains consistent at universities with top performing students is that learners are challenged, and students receive support from the university to help them meet those challenges.
Schools studied in Project DEEP engaged students through:
- Academic rigor – The level of rigor may vary depending on the institution's average student. Successful institutions recognize the level of rigor required and the faculty teaches accordingly.
- Student-focused learning – When classes generally contain a mix of freshman through senior students, teaching to the highest level and expecting students to help classmates succeed creates an active and engaging learning environment.
- Small group learning – Some universities offer a few very large classes (around 1,000 students), so they are able to offer more smaller classes where extra effort is made to engage learners.
- Service-learning – At universities where many students are undecided regarding their career paths, service-learning provides valuable experiences for students and helps them become active learners.
- Faculty involvement – Students who interact consistently with faculty outside the classroom on a less formal basis become more deeply involved in their education.
- Student involvement in research or internships – Top research institutions encourage student research assistanceships and internships to promote active learning.
- Resource-loading – When a majority of students enter an institution
directly from high school, some universities "resource load." This
means they focus on helping students transition into upper education
as active learners.
Schuh said many universities with top-performing students started small to create a culture of engagement and active learning. Faculty made many incremental steps to improve student experiences by incorporating active learning in the classroom. These efforts, over time, paid off as the institutions eventually embraced active learning as an important value for the university.