A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from an Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management and Dean of Student Affairs at a local college. The school is a long-time user of the CIRP Freshman Survey, and she was calling with what she thought was an unusual request. She chairs the survey committee on campus, and without a dedicated IR office, they were looking at all the surveys they do, and trying to figure out what to do with the data. Since the school was not far, she asked, would I be willing to come out and meet with the survey committee and talk with them about CIRP, and about surveys more generally?

It took me about 5 seconds to say yes.

The survey committee wanted to talk a bit about the importance of survey research, and so we started by walking through the kinds of information that is found on each of our CIRP surveys, and how that allows a school to look longitudinally at the development of its students, both cognitively and affectively. At the institutional level, you can use this information to help provide a clear sense of the student experience. Knowing the frequency with which students engage in practices associated with student success like learning communities, talking with faculty, engaging with students from different backgrounds and experiences, etc. can help a school understand which issues need the most attention, and serve as a compass by which to monitor improvement over time.

When I asked, faculty had plenty of good ideas of how they might use the data to answer specific questions they had about student learning at the institutional level—can students apply skills and learning in new contexts, are the developing the skills and knowledge to be effective in the next courses in this sequence, in their career, in life in general. But faculty members also wanted to know about how survey results were valuable at the department or classroom level. Survey results at the department level are useful in discussions about what students should be able to know to do, and to look at the development of these skills as students progress through the major. It allows a department to come together and reflect on goals, methods, pedagogy and curriculum. At the classroom level, survey data can be informative in looking at specific initiatives, for example the use of problem-based learning, collaborative learning, or classroom technology.

We ended by brainstorming a bit about how to disseminate findings to the larger campus, and in doing so how to structure those discussions to provide time and space to reflect the findings, to deliberate about the meaning an implications and to use the information to design more effective programs or to change policies all with the same goal– to support student learning.

I hope more schools will contact us about using the survey results on campus. CIRP staff is more than ready to help schools work through the issues they face in using the results of our surveys face to face (and we really enjoy it).