Over the past year, the Board of Trustees has committed to advancing the 2011–15 Strategic Plan. In keeping with that agenda, ACUI emailed member professionals a survey in February about research to help guide Strategic Direction 2: “ACUI will assemble and disseminate a body of knowledge about the college union/student activities profession through research, assessment, publication, and outreach.”
The survey was designed with four sections to determine 1) how members define research, 2) how members use research in practice, 3) what members are currently doing with research and writing, and 4) what needs ACUI members have about research. The guiding definitions and framework for this survey were from Frances Stage and Kathleen Manning’s 2003 “Research in the College Context”:
- Research – “gathering information you need to answer a question”
- Evaluation- “use assessment evidence to improve … effectiveness” or benchmarking
- Assessment – “gather, analyze, and interpret evidence which describes … effectiveness”
The survey design included open-ended questions to allow for comments and more in-depth explanations. While only 196 individuals completed the survey, the results provided helpful information that was shared with the ACUI Leadership Team and Central Office and with the membership in a session at the annual conference in Boston. The data will be used over the next year to help operationalize the strategic direction.
Section 1: Defining “research”
The purpose of this section was to establish a baseline for how ACUI members think about research. When provided with four definitions (essentially assessment, evaluation, research, and benchmarking), respondents predominately identified evaluation and benchmarking, but this varied by the degree held. Doctorate holders were more likely to identify research as generating “new knowledge guided by research questions,” and nongraduate degree holders were more likely to identify evaluation and benchmarking.
While 95.7 percent (178) affirmed that research relates to their work, the text analysis of “how research relates to practice” showed some variations:
- Evaluation to improve practice, 41 percent
- Identify trends, 17 percent
- Benchmark, 17 percent
- Assessment, 15 percent
- Validation of programs or practice, 12 percent
- Measure impact or effectiveness, 11 percent
- Generate knowledge or theories, 8 percent
- Improve student learning, 7 percent
Section 2: Determining the use of research in practice
This section explored how and where ACUI members obtain research information. Overall, respondents found information about trends in the industry through conferences (90 percent), professional magazines (81 percent), and colleagues (78 percent). However, doctorate holders used academic journals (79 percent) in addition to those three sources.
When asked how people preferred to read about research related to their work, the respondents overall stated a preference for electronic journals (63 percent) and electronic newsletters (52 percent). This was in preference over blogs, listservs, emails, and printed media.
The majority of respondents stated that they used research and wanted to use it more in practice (see Table 1). However, the uses that emerged from the open-ended question showed that members predominately use research for evaluation and benchmarking by sharing with colleagues, staff, and students; creating reports for administrators; and sharing at professional conferences. An important implication is that the data collected remains local or campus-based knowledge rather than reaching a broader audience of the profession. If we want to “tell our story,” then we need to share findings more widely.
Some responded that they do not use research because they lack the time, research is a low priority in their work duties, or their supervisor does not support time spent on research. These responses suggest a greater need to incorporate research into job responsibilities in addition to carving out time in one’s work to incorporate new research into practice. If we want a profession guided by data, then we need to model the behavior of applying and using research in practice.
Section 3: Benchmarking members’ contributions
The purpose of this section was to gauge and benchmark members’ research and publishing experiences. Of the 196 who completed the survey, 56 percent had a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs and 21 percent in another field. Twelve percent had a doctorate in higher education and student affairs and 5 percent in another field.
- 41.8 percent had published in an academic journal, professional magazine, and/or newsletter
- 68.3 percent had collected qualitative or quantitative data to explore a trend on their campus
- 46.7 percent had (co)taught an undergraduate or graduate course
- Of the 110 (56 percent) with a master’s degree, 47 wrote a thesis
Regardless of degree held, 68.3 percent of respondents had collected data on their campuses. This presents an opportunity to support members and connect them with opportunities to more broadly share information, thereby increasing our knowledge base.
Section 4: Determining how members want ACUI to support research
This section explored if and how members want ACUI to support research. Generally, the respondents want ACUI to support research and publishing. What form this support takes will be a regular topic during upcoming leadership meetings. This information (see Table 2) reaffirms ACUI’s commitment to advancing a strategic direction on research.
Finally, the survey asked for topics or issues on which ACUI could provide research that would improve job performance. The bolded responses below had more than 20 responses and are not in any ranked order. Consistent throughout the survey responses was the desire for information on trends, the impact of the college union, and student learning. These provide rich research areas that would not only improve practice but would positively affect the role of the college union and student activities on our campuses.
By understanding how members define research, ACUI can better design future programs and educational opportunities. This can also help ACUI tailor communications to student affairs faculty and graduate programs to promote more successful collaborations and partnerships. Knowing how members prefer to learn about research and how they use it will help guide the operationalization of Strategic Direction 2. The survey results and subsequent component group conversations will all be shared with ACUI’s Leadership Team to help advance this important strategic direction.
Questions about this survey or this area of the Strategic Plan can be directed to Tamara Yakaboski, at-large member of the Board of Trustees, at email@example.com.