Ryerson Faculty Conference Keynote: Can Statistics Help Us Understand Student Engagement?


  • Christopher Evans

National Survey of Student Engagement

While statistics don’t tell the whole story, it shows student perceptions, which are important because those are passed onto other current students and prospective students.

  • 1st + 4th year students, 4200+ at this university
  • from 146 countries


  • live with parents 69%
  • commute to campus 95%
  • >10 hrs/week commuting 38%

Student Employment

  • on campus 13.6%
  • off 54.7%
  • work 68.3%
  • work >10 hrs/week 45.3%

Campus Life

  • participate co-curricular 40%
  • attend campus events < 50%
  • < 10 hr/week (outside of class) 68%

Academic Life

  • significant time studying 79%
  • prepare >10hr/week for class 61%
  • unprepared for class 35%

Satisfaction with Education

  • good/excellent 79%
  • would attend again 81%
  • faculty available/helpful/sympathetic 66%
  • faculty make students aware of research activities by applying their research to teaching 62%

This last point is valuable experience for students and gives a little window to faculty life, which allows students to get to know faculty a little better.

Sense of Community

  • in class 56% – faculty crucial to student’s feeling at home at Ryerson
  • academic program 46%
  • study groups 29%
  • none 12% – realistically, no matter what, some students won’t feel at home, will never be zero

Contributions to Engagement

  • presentation 39%
  • project that integrated ideas from different sources 86%
  • worked with other student during class 46%
  • worked with classmates outside of class 70%
  • discussed ideas with faculty outside class 56%
  • received prompt written/oral feedback 50%

All instructors feel that they give prompt feedback, but perception might be skewed somewhat. For example, an instructor might return a quiz the next class, but when midterms are returned a week later, students may think faculty are being lazy. Faculty activities become important for student perception of engagement as well.

  • participated in community based project 34%
  • practicum/intership/co-op/etc 30%
  • worked with faculty members on activities other than coursework 38%
  • capstone/thesis/senior project (4th only) 23%
  • worked on research project with faculty member outside of program requirements 8% – skewed to lower side, because includes 1st and 4th year students


  • work/financial 83%
  • family
  • health/disability

What would Improve Learning Experience

These were very generic answers.

  • quality of instruction 34%
  • increase contact 21%
  • improve quality of academic support 24%
  • more opportunities to undertake research with faculty 25%
  • reduce class size 13% – large classes aren’t a big deal, but the subject matter and how it is presented

Teaching Chairs Report – Faculty Concerns

  • most common presentation forms: lecture, seminar/method course, lab/studio
  • motivating students 89%
  • evaluating students’ learning 65%
  • understanding learning differences 53%
  • understanding how students develop intellectually 59%
Faculty Express Concern About
  • students attitudes and behaviour – class attendance, participation
  • administrative and logistical challenges – scheduling, large class sizes

Faculty feel large class sizes are a problem, but students don’t.

What does the data tell us about engagement?

NSSE data gives us hints about academic and social interaction

  • academic integration: perception of faculty interest, academic resources, academic preparation
  • social integration: student’s perception of his/her ties to the post-secondary institution, which include extend to which student is involved in institution-related activities, perception of faculty and staff attitude, institutional sensitivity, institution events

Some faculty portray a kind of remote veneer that keeps them at arm’s length, which makes them unapproachable.

The data tells the what, but not the how or why, and only about student perception.

Levels of Engagement

While the NSSE focus on two types of levels of engagement, the data doesn’t give us much insight into any of the others.

  • mentoring – highlevel, multi-variant interaction (NSSE focus)
  • personal
  • functional interaction – contact for particular, institutional purposes (NSSE focus)
  • incidental
  • disengagement

Benefits of Increasing Faculty Student Engagement

  • higher grades
  • improved student confidence
  • increases student perception of being valued
  • increases persistence in higher education

Faculty may find it a bit of a balancing act for sure, but asking about a student concern at the time may help to save time later, should situation grow worse.

How to Increase Engagement

One slice does not fit all – some suggestions will not be for you.

  • provide opportunities for students to write = dialogue
  • attend student events, esp those at are purposeful (e.g. student colloquium)
  • encourage students to attend offices hours, and keep encouraging
  • have projects that encourage collaboration and continued feedback
  • pay close attention to student interactions – if socailly isolated, struggling
  • have faculty model their methods of engaging students to each other – some faculty members are known to be oustanding teachers and have the skills with engaging students, we can learn from them

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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