June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
11.1404.1 - 11.1404.19
Using Reflective Essays as Part of a Mixed-Method Approach for Evaluating a Freshman Living-Learning Community For Engineering and Science Majors
Researchers at a large Northwest research university developed a living-learning community (LLC) program in 2004 to increase retention of freshmen engineering and science students, improve academic abilities, and increase college engagement. A mixed-method approach for program evaluation was employed providing a more holistic evaluation of the program’s effectiveness. The evaluation included qualitative measures for grades, retention, and surveys, along with quantitative measures from focus groups, observations and content analysis of reflective essays. Of these qualitative components, the reflective essay content analysis was particularly insightful. Reflective essays are not often used for assessing and evaluating programs, however, their use in this study provided a unique opportunity for understanding the college experience from the students’ perspective and for explaining quantitative results from grades, retention, and engagement surveys. Essay analysis revealed differences between engineering and science students, indications of their intellectual development, and how they were transitioning to college life. This paper presents a methodology for content analysis of reflective essays, describes how the results were used to triangulate and explain other the other measures, and identifies areas for improvement in the LLC program.
Traditional evaluation of LLC programs encompassing various facets of a student’s life during the first year of college are often limited to statistical analyses of grades, retention, and responses to surveys, indicating what happened but not why it happened. These measures fail to address the cumulative effects of social and academic experiences. They also ignore the temporal changes that freshmen go through during their first year and how such programs affect these changes.
The semester-long LLC described in this paper began as an attempt to improve the engagement, academic abilities, and retention (to the following year as well as retention in the major) of engineering and science students. Researchers at a large northwestern research university developed a novel LLC for entering freshmen encompassing both residential and academic life. The program, called “Teniwe” (meaning “to talk” in the Native American language of the Nez Perce), was a voluntary, self-selected program that housed students with a common major (engineering and biotech) and pre-registered them in a common block of classes during the Fall 2004 semester. A corresponding seminar class facilitated community building, familiarization with university resources, and academic improvement by teaching study skills and providing content help for linked classes.
As with any other academic program, program evaluation is an essential component for program success and continuation. Commonly used evaluation measures: retention, grades, and
Light, J., & Girardeau, L., & Beller, J., & Crouch, G. (2006, June), Using Reflective Essays As Part Of A Mixed Method Approach For Evaluating A Freshman Living Learning Community For Engineering And Science Students Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. https://peer.asee.org/745
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