Four Strategies for Engaging Faculty in Meaningful Discussions About NSSE

Photo by: Riley Brandt

By Patti Dyjur (Curriculum Development Specialist) and Natasha Kenny (Director of the Educational Development Unit), Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a survey that collects information from students in their first and fourth years of study, is implemented in hundreds of universities and colleges across North America. Institutions can use their data to identify aspects of the student experience to further leverage or improve. At the University of Calgary, NSSE data is collected every three years. Once the University receives its data, schools and faculties across the institution bring together small teams and action groups to analyze and discuss their faculty-specific results with the goal of continuously strengthening student engagement and learning across multiple levels.

The University of Calgary is committed to strengthening student learning, as is evident from the Student Engagement Action Map . This website was created to showcase the institutional, faculty and course-level programs and initiatives that promote and enhance student engagement in five areas: academic challenge, campus environment, experiences with faculty, learning with peers, and high-impact practices.

While the data from the NSSE reports are important, they are the catalyst, not the driver, for meaningful discussions about student engagement. As the Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) Dr. Leslie Reid shared at the University’s first NSSE retreat in November 2017, “Ask how the NSSE data can work for you, not the other way around!”

Here are four ideas to engage colleagues in discussions to help make the NSSE data work for you:

1. Solicit input and engagement from multiple viewpoints and perspectives

NSSE data is shared with all faculties in faculty-level reports, providing comprehensive overviews of first and fourth year students’ responses to the approximately 40 statements related to specific engagement indicators and high-impact practices.  The report is meant to be used by faculties and departments as part of informed discussion and decision-making with the goal of improving programs. Data in the report is best understood within the context of the program, and soliciting different perspectives on the data can enrich conversations about it, while also inspiring meaningful conversations about teaching and learning more broadly. By involving staff, students, and all faculty (including sessional instructors) in discussions, you can better understand the data from multiple viewpoints. One step you may take to help ensure diverse input is to invite a couple student representatives and staff members to sit on your department or faculty NSSE Team.

2. Be strategic

Let’s face it—booking another meeting or retreat into our schedules at any time of year is challenging. There are likely many existing opportunities, processes and structures that you can use to discuss your faculty’s NSSE results. Be strategic by incorporating NSSE discussions into existing department or committee meetings, taking the results to the student council, and involving your curriculum and teaching and learning committees. You can also reach more people through town halls and retreats, especially if students and staff members are invited.

Looking at the comprehensive NSSE report in one session can be overwhelming. You might want to discuss a small focused portion of the results that you are particularly curious about, rather than tackling the entire report at once. For example, you could have a standing agenda item: take 10-15 minutes to pose a question about one particular area of the NSSE results at each department meeting, allowing attendees to discuss in small groups throughout an academic year.

3. Ask good questions

Asking good questions will be key to making the data work for you. Here are some suggested questions for engaging students, staff and faculty in meaningful discussions:

  • What is going well? What are our successes? Where have we improved? What factors do we think contributed to these improvements?
  • What do we find most surprising or perplexing about these results?
  • What does this data mean within the context of our program? What are we particularly proud of? What do we think requires further attention based on this data?
  • What other data do we have that may help us better understand our NSSE results?
  • What areas do we want to know more about based on this data? What additional questions do we have?
  • How might this data inform our teaching practices? What practices do you use in your courses to foster student engagement that you would like to share with your colleagues? What might you do more or less, based on this data?

4. Be future focused

In order to best use your NSSE report, be future focused:

  • Capitalize on successes! What has been working particularly well that you can further leverage?
  • What opportunities exist for strengthening student learning and engagement? How do these opportunities align with department, faculty, and/or institutional priorities?
  • How can we learn from and collaborate with our colleagues across campus to strengthen student engagement?
  • What would we most like to see in our results three years from now? What actions or strategies could help us get there?

Student engagement and learning are inherently complex. NSSE data provides a valuable starting point to engage staff, faculty and students in meaningful evidence-based conversations about teaching and student learning. By soliciting input from multiple viewpoints, being strategic, asking good questions, and keeping the discussions future-focused, you can use the data to inspire meaningful dialogue and to establish key goals to continue strengthening teaching and learning across your program.


  1. Glad to hear that this is useful! We look forward to working with the academic community to continue to strengthen student learning and engagement.

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