Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Implementing a Web-Based Adaptive Senior Exit Survey for Undergraduates

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Implementing a Web-Based Adaptive Senior Exit Survey for Undergraduates

Article excerpt


As part of an institution-wide reform initiative at Montana State University, an adaptive, senior exit survey was developed and delivered via the World Wide Web. Individualized surveys were automatically generated for students so that questions particular to specific major and non-major courses could be administered as well as questions regarding university services. The principle advantages of providing a survey in this format include the ability for students to enter extended student-supplied responses to questions using the keyboard, the use of sampling techniques to target questions to specific student groups, and the delivery of individualized survey results privately to department administrators.


In this paper we describe the development and implementation of Montana State University's (MSU) innovative, web-based, senior exit survey for undergraduates. The survey represents one component of MSU's Institutional Reform (IR) Project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF-EHR #9850116). This project comprises several initiatives designed to move MSU from a campus with promising "hot-spots" of innovation in undergraduate science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SME&T) education to a campus with truly campus-wide involvement in reform and improvement efforts. These initiatives include faculty professional development, a campus profile, and dissemination of effective teaching approaches, each of which will be described in detail elsewhere.

The survey described here was designed to contribute to the project strand focusing on developing a Teaching and Learning Campus Profile for campus-wide formative assessment to provide an accurate understanding of our accomplishments and highlight what still needs to be done. The survey was tested for the first time in spring 2000, and, therefore, at this point, we are unable to report on our ultimate goal of using data from this survey to inform and influence decision-making on our campus. We, therefore, must admit that we are not reporting the results of an assessment project because arguably the most critical component of the assessment cycle closing the assessment loop is absent from our discussion. However, we feel that the approach and results of the project to date are worth sharing with others interested in using the World Wide Web as an effective mechanism for collecting assessment data.

Needs Assessment

In the fall of 1998, we met with more than a dozen department heads or designated representatives across campus to review their individual departmental assessment plans. The goal of these meetings was to identify ways in which our reform project, still in its most formative phase, could serve to support the assessment needs of individual departments. The most common purpose of departmental assessment plans was gathering data from senior students and alumni, viewed as potentially useful for informing decision-making regarding instructional programs.

However, it was clear that both methods being used to gather this data--the hand-written, university-wide senior exit survey and individual exit interviews--had enormous shortcomings. First, the questions on the existing university-wide senior survey (see discussion below) were viewed as too general to be useful for any-specific decision-making at the departmental level. Second, individual exit interviews were criticized for being time-consuming, not yielding statistical results, and completely missing the large number of non-majors who often enroll in courses outside their major department. For example in 1999, 89% of the student credit hours in the MSU Physics Department were from non-major, general core courses, which are rarely taken by the physics majors individually interviewed by the department head. As the discussions proceeded, there emerged the concept of an adaptive survey that could ask different questions of different students based on their particular majors and the specific elective courses they had taken. …

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