How would you transform a student-employee training process to align it more intentionally with academic experiences, enhance student employee performance, and improve patron experiences?
What the staff in Campus Recreational Services (CRS) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, did earned them an Honorable Mention for the KC’s Innovation Award 2018. CRS relied upon multiple forms of assessment (including surveys, rubrics, and interviews) not only to shape but also to evaluate the student-employee training curriculum and its impact on patron experiences, influenced student-employee training in other Campus Life units at UNLV, and also shared this training approach through NIRSA with other campus recreation units at other colleges and universities.
Picture it. Las Vegas. Spring 2013. The economy throughout much of the U.S. has recovered or made significant strides to recover from the Great Recession, but the economic recovery has been slow to reach Las Vegas. At UNLV, students completed the NASPA Consortium Study for Campus Recreation and Wellness. The study offered a glimpse into five aspects of patron experiences at CRS: staff are friendly; staff are knowledgeable; staff can answer questions; SRWC is a safe environment; and SRWC is inclusive of diverse populations. Three of the five (friendliness, safety, and inclusiveness) were favorably endorsed by 80% or more of respondents. In fact, safety was favorably endorsed by more than 90%.
Flash forward to Spring 2014. Hearing feedback from their student employees that the existing one-day, lecture driven model bored them and seeing data that showed that it was less effective than desired, professional staff in CRS understood and embraced their duty to teach their student employees the knowledge and resources needed in order to provide excellent customer service, communicate accurate information, respond to emergencies, and develop interpersonal skills that would serve them both professionally and personally. The revision aimed to prepare the roughly 150 student employees to serve not only their fellow students but also faculty, staff, and community members who visit the Student Recreation and Wellness Center.
Shift in Perspective
The staff changed their view of training from seeing it as an event that occurred on specific days each semester to seeing it as a process that is ongoing throughout the year. The kickoff to the training year took the form of a two-day interactive “All Staff Training.” At the end of this event, students completed brief questionnaires. Their responses guided staff choices about additional training activities to provide during regularly scheduled team meetings. Then, shortly after mid-terms, semester performance evaluations (PEs) began. The PEs used a combination of rubrics and interviews. Student employees rated themselves using the same rubric that their supervisors would use. The rubrics included learning outcomes (problem-solving, leadership development, communication and teamwork, time management and organizational skills, and connection / sense of belonging to UNLV) as well as job standards (professionalism and customer service). During the interview phase of the PE, supervisors asked students to reflect upon and discuss what they learned in class that they had applied to their work and what they learned at work that helped them in school.
Each spring, several new student employees joined CRS. They participated in a scaled down version of the “All Staff Training” dubbed “New Staff Training.” They completed questionnaires similar to the ones for the “All Staff Training” in the fall term. Data from these questionnaires were combined with data from the fall PEs (for continuing student employees) to inform decisions about training topics during the spring term. Shortly after mid-terms, spring PEs began and followed the same process as the fall PEs. Results of the spring PEs informed decisions about training topics for the “All Staff Training” coming up in August.
Planned Missing Data Design
For both “All Staff Training” and “New Staff Training,” the CRS staff identified 18 learning outcomes, but they worried that students would not complete a questionnaire that asked them to rate all 18 outcomes. Instead, they wanted to limit the maximum number of items to eight. Collaborating with Campus Life Assessment at UNLV (now, Student Affairs Strategic Planning & Assessment), the CRS staff created multiple short versions of the questionnaire to cover the set of 18 outcomes but with any given student rating just a few of them. Each version had five to eight questions, and three to five of them pertained to the learning outcomes. Each version shared at least one item with another version, so we could check for significantly different ratings between versions. Each version was printed on a different color of paper and randomly distributed to students at the start of the retreat. The forms were due at the end of the retreat. After the retreat, CRS staff entered the data. To speed data entry, CRS used a Campus Labs Baseline project that included display logic based on the color of the form, so it displayed only the items found on that particular version. Results were aggregated across versions.
Mindful of Core Mission of the University
Recall that, during the PE process each semester, student employees were asked about learning from classes applied at work (and vice versa). To no one’s surprise, we learned that students majoring in disciplines directly related to their work (e.g., kinesiology, health fields, business, communication) articulated more direct applications between work and school. Students in majors less directly related (e.g., fine arts) indicated less applicability. Staff noted a need to follow-up in future trainings and supervision to engage the latter group of students in more intentional discussions about how to apply their coursework to their jobs and vice versa. A resource for this follow-up would come from one of our academic administrators later in Spring 2015.
Mary-Ann Winklemes, began a series of faculty development sessions on campus to share her Transparency Initiative in Learning & Teaching (TILT) method, and some of our staff took notice. This method advocated for instructors, when making assignments, to explicitly identify for students the purpose of the assignment, the tasks needed to complete the assignment, and the criteria that would be used to evaluate their work. As academic faculty adopted this teaching method for their courses, CRS staff adopted it for training in Fall 2015. Incorporating it into their new year-long training model, they changed what happened in the training sessions to adhere to TILT. This decision reinforced the connection between coursework and employment. Students saw the same teaching method in some of their courses and on their jobs.
Enhancing Patron Experiences
One of the longer range aims of the revised training process was an improvement in the patron experiences. Recall that in the Spring 2013 administration of the NASPA Consortium Study for Campus Recreation & Wellness, 80% or more of patrons favorably endorsed three of five areas. The consortium study administration in Spring 2016 provided a first glimpse into patron impact. Three areas of the patron experience already received strongly favorable results, and these results would be difficult to surpass. Still, CRS surpassed them.
In spring 2016, with a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points, four areas improved significantly: staff are friendly; staff can answer questions; SRWC is a safe environment; and SRWC is inclusive of diverse populations. Now, four areas (friendliness of staff, ability to answer questions, safety, and inclusiveness) were favorably endorsed by 80% or more; two (safety and inclusiveness), by more than 90%. In particular, two items showed noteworthy improvement from 2013: staff’s ability to answer questions (up 7 points) and the inclusiveness of diverse populations (up 10 points). These gains definitely felt like a win.
Since spring 2016, two departments at UNLV have begun to adopt this training process for their own student employees. In addition, staff from CRS presented on this process at the regional NIRSA Conference in Fall 2016.
If you need any additional information, please let either of us know.
J. Judd Harbin, Ph.D.
Executive Director of Strategic Planning & Assessment
Executive Director of Campus Recreational Services and SRWC Facilities
Division of Student Affairs
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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