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Analysis: Irish Survey of Student Engagement 2017

The survey reported that 4 per cent of Irish students have never learned something that changed the way they understand an issue or concept.

The results for student-faculty engagement have further improved in 2017, according to the Irish Survey of Student Engagement, and could have stemmed from greater focus on specific aspects of the student experience. One quarter of STEM students report that their coursework emphasized applying facts, theories or methods to practical problems or new situations. This shows a positive score in applicability of course content to real life. STEM students predictably score higher on Quantitative Reasoning, with 28% higher score than non-STEM pupils.

The survey found that female students report greater engagement with coursework relating to Quantitative Reasoning than their male counterparts. A notable drawback for the survey was 74.7% of participants are from universities based in Dublin. ISSE thus needs to reach more educational institutions outside Dublin to be wholly representative of student engagement across Ireland.

The survey also reported that 4 per cent of Irish students have never learned something that changed the way they understand an issue or concept.

The Irish Survey of Student Engagement has been carried out every year since 2013 to collect information on student engagement in their respective educational institutions, in both academic and related activities. ISSE is one of the data-generating tools for the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 and its implementation is funded by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), in conjunction with related educational bodies. This survey provides valuable data on the manner and degree of engagement by the participating pupils’ with their learning environments and how institutions set up curriculums and other tools of student engagement. This further aids formulation of institutional and national level educational policies by recognizing key focus areas.

The latest survey saw the participation of 35,850 undergraduate and postgraduate students from twenty- seven higher education institutions across the nation and is representative of all courses of study and demographics. It has sixty seven questions in ten sets: Higher Order Learning, Collaborative Learning; Supportive Environment; Reflective and Integrative Learning; Student-Faculty Interaction; Quantitative Reasoning; Effective Teaching Practices; Learning Strategies; Quality of Interactions and Other Items. This covers a broad range of inquiry, from specific outcomes of course content to social and recreational engagement of the pupil through collaborative learning. Interaction with academic staff is also studied.

Irish students are about 21% more likely to not engage with teachers about non-coursework-related agendas than their US counterparts. Over 25% of STEM students reported that applying their learning of facts, theories and methods to practical problems was emphasized in the coursework in addition to 21% STEM pupils reporting ‘very much’ emphasis on analysing an idea, experience, or line of reasoning in depth by examining its parts.

Postgraduate STEM students are found to have higher levels of engagement on most fronts. For instance, they generate the highest indicator scores for Quantitative Reasoning of any cohort. Also, postgraduate STEM students and STEM students in universities report the most frequent experience of learning through methods such as application, analysis, judgment and synthesis.

An unusual result presented by the survey is that STEM students report relatively low levels of Quantitative Reasoning compared to students pursuing other fields of study. For the most part, students in fields of study that are not STEM-related report greater Higher Order Learning indicator scores than STEM students. Two open-ended questions on the theme of the degree of engagement of educational institutions and what further can be done by them to improve engagement revealed group work, lecturers and tutorials engage students the most while the areas with scope to improve are effective teaching provision and quality of interactions.

This survey aims to identify areas of potential improvement in learning environments and helps bring to light deficiencies in student supports.