Student Experience Research Team (SERT)
This project, the Student Experience Research Team (SERT), is driven by four commitments:
- Creating a meaningful, high-impact research opportunity for Ryerson undergraduate students that will enrich their understanding of their own and their fellow students’ experience in higher education.
- Supporting these students financially by paying them a good wage for this.
- Activating non-traditional, “ways of knowing” in our methodology.
- Making a meaningful contribution to the field of Student Affairs through these research efforts.
The findings are quite clear about the value of meaningful research experiences for undergraduate students (Wolf, 2018). These experiences are said to lead to the development of critical thinking skills and a huge range of other professional and academic competencies, increased student confidence, greater persistence and retention rates, stronger graduate school applications, deeper learning and cognitive growth, more focused career considerations, etc. The provision of these experiences inside academic units and departments is a growing practice but it is relatively unexplored territory in the context of Student Affairs in Canada. Given the ongoing need for research and inquiry into the work of Student Affairs and the student experience, and our decided focus in Student Affairs on providing meaningful experiences for students, this seems an obvious gap. The SERT project is an attempt to address this gap by providing a research opportunity in our field, one in which the students will receive a working wage, rather than an academic credit.
The other gap to be filled by this project is an expansion of our modes of inquiry into Student Affairs questions about the student experience, often understood according to some pretty narrow and dominant narratives – transition theory, student development theory, student engagement. These foundations have added significantly to our understanding of things, and have shaped our approaches to the work, but, surely, they don’t tell the whole story. In fact, it is likely that our preoccupation with these good but narrow perspectives has obscured from view other possibilities. Most research in Student Affairs focuses on either a very traditional quantitative analysis of some causal relationship between a program and an outcome, or a traditional qualitative account of student feedback about some aspect of their experience with a program. (Naturally, there is some range here). This is, of course, natural and good, but it also shows a hesitancy to explore other forms of inquiry. So, in our pursuit of better understanding the varieties of student experience, with student researchers as our partners, we declare, in this project, our greater attentiveness to and preference for the “context of discovery” over the context of certainty, causality and justification. And we commit here to incorporating more non-traditional ways of knowing, or modes of inquiry into our work as a way of making a meaningful contribution to the field of Student Affairs research in Canada.
The first SERT project included six undergraduate researchers employed through April 2018 to April 2019 and we completed one major project and one additional endeavor in partnership with the Public Garage Project. The reports for these project are in a sort of zine-format, and are downloadable below. Text-only versions of the reports are also available.