Sunday, December 02, 2012

Student Perception and Credibility of Student’s Opinion

It is difficult to divorce student’s positive perception of an institution from desire to secure admission in it – assuming, there are no other major variables influencing the outcome of the decision. The perception tends to be formed, in my opinion, on social interaction and active feedback mechanism from alumni, peer groups, and institution’s enrolled students. These views are cross checked with reference groups, community leaders/elders including parents and other siblings, as well. I believe that the notion of students forming opinions about institutions based on heresy, rumours, and superfluous or supercilious parameters is not exactly true! 
The younger generation, on an average is ‘performance’ conscious and does like to evaluate institutions based on ‘effective educational practices,’ ‘environment & culture,’ ‘industry & job market’s assessment of an institution,’ ‘affordability,’ and faculty performance. I would go to the extent that often these perceptions are based on outcomes of informal, as well as formal research undertaken by the potential enroller of all ‘higher education.’ There may exist indications that ‘disciplinary culture,’ ‘opportunities to engage in personal growth, confidence building, and extra as well as co-curricular activities’ also tend to influence today’s average student in deciding to join an institution. I am not sure to what level parent’s/family’s ‘economic reality’ factor plays a crucial role in ‘college/university’ decision – especially, in today’s world where, even in traditional eastern societies, exists a trend of students beginning to ‘work’ to pay for or/and contribute towards the cost of education. 
Yes, indeed, admissions are also sought in several institutions because of certain snob value, however, to retain ‘snob value,’ these institutions have to retain their ‘core values’ (the ones discussed above) and extrinsic value (which stems from patronisation by ruling elite class). You may note that even these institutions vie to enroll accomplished and promising students (even if from lower economic strata to retain its reputation as premier academic institutions.
I remember reading a study (Umbach & Wawrzynski, 2005), which concludes that students tend to demonstrate higher level of engagement and learning at institutions where “faculty members use active and collaborative learning techniques, engage students in experiences, emphasize higher-order cognitive activities in the classroom, interact with students, challenge students academically, and value enriching educational experiences.” (p. 153)
Then there is an issue concering credibility of student's opinion or perception. How does one justify a study that is based on student opinion? Is it more to do with justifying or negating the exercise of student feedback to gauge the quality of an academic institution!
I will like to draw attention to a paper on student perceptions of faculty credibility based on email addresses (Livermore, Scafe, & Wiechowski, 2010). The idea is not to belittle your concern but to accentuate. The survey conducted indicated that “… a faculty member’s selection of an email address does influence the student’s perception of faculty credibility. An email address that consists of a nickname reduces the student’s perception of faculty credibility. The reduced creditability may have a negative impact on the faculty member as well as the college.” (p. 27)
It is apparent that student’s perception plays an important role in not just faculty’s credibility but the institutions credibility, as well. The lack of credibility, as some researchers point out, is linked to perceived learning (Russ, Simonds, & Hunt, 2002); (Glascock & Ruggiero, 2006). In today’s highly competitive and cut throat business, most colleges are struggling with increased competition, decreasing share of pie, and uncertain economic scenario – given the scenario, student satisfaction assumes a greater importance. A lack of perceived learning is likely to reduce a student’s satisfaction, leading to dwindling enrollment numbers. So, it will be right to assign greater importance to Student Perceptions despite the credibility issue.
Given the fact that there is an increased investment in education industry from the private sector, which adheres to ‘Profit Model’ for all of its socio-economic activities, client perceptions will always be important. It may be noted that most successful business enterprises decide to change with times, strategically re-invent themselves, re-brand or re-position themselves, to meet their customer’s expectations… Only, in this case student has become the customer.

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