Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles written by students who were enrolled in Jennifer Bloom's graduate class in student affairs administration at the University of South Carolina for the fall 2008 semester. As part of her course syllabus, Dr. Bloom required each student in her class to submit an article to The Mentor or other publications for consideration.
The University of South Carolina's Office of Student Engagement defines student engagement as the amount of physical and emotional energy students exert to participate in educationally purposeful activities within and beyond the classroom. Research indicates that there is a connection between a student's level of engagement in an institution and his or her satisfaction with that institution (Kuh, 2003). In addition, students who are engaged are more likely to persist toward completing their degrees (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Astin (1999) found that engagement happens on a continuum, with some students investing their time and energy into one type of activity while other students may be involved in a completely different type of activity. Academic advisers are charged with helping students integrate their curricular and co-curricular experiences. Thus advisers have the opportunity to encourage students to intentionally augment their learning in the classroom with opportunities outside the classroom. Until now, however, there has not been an easy-to-use instrument to help advisers inform students about various engagement opportunities on campus. The purpose of this article it to provide student engagement templates that advisers can customize and use during advising appointments.
How to Create Student Engagement Instruments
The first step in creating a customized student engagement instrument is to identify areas of engagement on the adviser's campus. The Student Engagement Resources template at the end of this article can be used as a guide when advisers ask the campus student affairs unit about opportunities such as academic support options, student organizations, mentoring programs, undergraduate research programs, diversity programs, intramurals, etc. Be sure to get the Web address, physical address, and phone number for each of the identified resources. Also ask about other opportunities for student engagement that are not listed on the template. If a campus has an official organization for academic advisers, this could be an excellent project for that group to undertake in order to minimize the workload for any one adviser.
After identifying engagement opportunities, advisers can create a Student Engagement Inventory (see sample below) that includes a list of these opportunities and reflects the services offered by units represented in the Student Engagement Resources document. Once the Student Engagement Inventory is in draft form, it is a good idea to pilot the instrument by having both colleagues and students review it. They can provide feedback on the clarity of the items on the instrument as well as suggest additional engagement opportunities.
Once the inventory is complete, the next step is to create a scale and a scoring mechanism. Since the purpose of the Student Engagement Inventory is to gauge students' levels of engagement at an institution, a scale that incorporates Prochaska and DiClemente's (1992) work on how to successfully modify behavior can apply. Prochaska and DiClemente (1992) identified five levels of behavior modification: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance. In the context of student engagement, the lowest level, Pre-contemplation, implies that the student has no interest in becoming engaged at the institution. On the Student Engagement Inventory below, this level reflects a score between 10 and 0. Contemplation, indicating a score between 20 and 11, means the student has no plans to become engaged in the near future. A score between 30 and 21 refers to the Preparation level at which the student decides to become engaged in the institution. Action, suggesting a score between 40 and 31, indicates that the student is starting to engage in the institution. Maintenance, the final level, is a measure that should encourage the student to use his or her knowledge and excitement about engagement opportunities at the institution to help other students.
For each item on the Student Engagement Inventory used in the Office of Student Engagement at the University of South Carolina, students identify one of five levels of engagement: unfamiliar, no interest, very little interest, interested, or explored. A numeric value is assigned to each column or level. After students complete the inventory, they should be instructed to add their scores in each row. This will produce a total score, which relates to a description in the Scores section reflecting the student's current level of engagement.
How to Use the Student Engagement Inventory and Student Engagement Resources Forms
Once advisers create and pilot both the inventory and resource forms, they can begin using the documents with students. The forms can be helpful in individual or group advising sessions and in University 101 types of courses. Students can complete the Student Engagement Inventory and then reflect on their scores. Questions that the adviser may wish to ask students include, Were you surprised by the numbers of opportunities available on campus? and Which opportunity on the inventory was most intriguing to you?
Advisers should give students the Student Engagement Resources form listing information about opportunities available on campus, and a discussion can ensue about which activities might be most interesting to the student. If the student has little or no exposure to certain areas, advisers should take the time to inform the student about those engagement opportunities. For example, a student may have scored himself at the very little interest level in relation to student organizations. The academic adviser can follow up by asking, Why do you have so little interest in student organizations? The academic adviser may find that the student only knows about a few of the student organizations at the institution. Thus, the adviser can then introduce to the student a complete list of student organizations. The adviser should encourage the student to use the information about the variety of engagement opportunities to become involved and discuss why becoming engaged at the institution is beneficial.
A student's level of engagement in an institution has been shown to be a key factor in student retention and satisfaction (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Kuh, 2003). Academic advisers are ideally situated to encourage students to become involved on campus. This article has described how academic advisers can create and utilize customized Student Engagement Inventory and Student Engagement Resources forms to facilitate student involvement in campus engagement opportunities.