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Campus Alive! A project to explore student attitudes to campus life

Kandy James and Sue Colyer
School of Marketing Tourism and Leisure
Edith Cowan University


Introduction

Edith Cowan University, a former College of Advanced Education, has almost 20000 students spread over 4 campuses. The focus of this study is the 10 year old Joondalup campus. Joondalup has never had a strong culture of student social and recreational clubs. The abolition of compulsory Student Guild (union) fees in the mid-1990s hit the Guild hard and the Guild tavern that had only operated for a few years was handed over to contract caterers at the end of 1999. It did not re-open in 2000. A large modern sport and recreation centre was opened at the far end of the campus in 1998 and, in 2000, its café became licensed. There was a general perception amongst staff that students seldom remained on campus beyond their class or study commitments.

If you ask graduate "baby boomers" to reflect on their university days, they usually recall with pleasure the extra-curricular activities that augmented the classroom experience. Many acknowledge the life-long friendships and skills acquired in campus sporting, recreational or social clubs. Times have changed. The economic climate is different now and ECU students are drawn from a broad cross-section of the community. Many must work part-time to survive. Timetables are geared to "fast food style" education. Students can usually complete the contact requirements for each unit in a three-hour block and lecture notes are often available on the web. Campus life may be losing its appeal ("Campus life," 2000) and on-campus students may become a rarity ("Campus student, threatened species," 1997). Attrition rates are a concern as universities compete for diminishing funds (Ballantyne, 2000), and these could be affected by lack of peer support or friendship groups in difficult times (Reisberg, 2000; 1999). Kuh (1995) believed that universities today must create the conditions that encourage participation in organisational and leadership roles on campus.

This small project was predicated on the belief that students could be missing the richness of the experiences that earlier generations gained from campus life. It aimed to assess current students' attitudes towards campus life. It will provide a yardstick against which to measure future trends. It also allowed Leisure Sciences practicum students to use the information to provide a sample of activities in answer to students' expressed needs.

Phase 1: The survey

Students in a variety of first year classes, across a range of disciplines, were asked to complete a 2-sided, anonymous, voluntary survey form. It covered demographics, aspects of recreational and social life on campus and familiarity with the extra-curricular facilities. Students were asked what activities they would like to participate in on-campus and suggestions to improve campus life.

Five hundred surveys were completed. The respondents were 86% full time, 59% female and 80% identified themselves as Australian which was consistent with the wider student population of Joondalup campus. The survey was conducted towards the end of first semester and 56% of the students were 19 years old or less. The average weekly income, including government or other assistance was $209 and the average weekly expenditure on entertainment and recreation was $65 or 31% of income. Twenty-six percent of student did no paid work. Some of the results are depicted in the Table 1 and Figures 1-6. They spent an average of three and a half hours per day on campus. The graphs show that most students valued gaining a qualification as their main reason for attending university. They were evenly spread about whether meeting new people was important, although 30% agreed it was. Although 40% of respondents did not socialise with university friends off campus, a surprising 60% knew students whom they could ask for help with their studies. They were divided about the importance of a tavern but only 20% said that they would not spend more time on campus if suitable activities were made available. This study only surveyed the "survivors" of Semester 1. A future study could survey drop-outs, particularly in relation to friendship group support.

Table 1: Average hours students spent on campus per week

On campus activityAv hrs/wk
Attending classes11.4
Studying/ in library3.6
Using recreational facilities0.6
Socialising with friends2.0
Total hours17.6

Figure 1
Figure 1: Main reason for attending university is to get a qualification

Figure 2
Figure 2: Main reason for attending university is to meet new people
Figure 3
Figure 3: I know other students I can ask for help with my studies

Figure 4
Figure 4: I often socialise with my university friends off-campus

Figure 5
Figure 5: I would spend more time on campus if suitable activities were offered

Figure 6
Figure 6: A tavern is an important part of university life

Phase 2: Initiating the practice

The results of the survey formed the basis of the second phase; a student practice project. Figure 7 shows how the two phases of the study were related.

Figure 7

Figure 7: The Campus Alive! project framework

The practice project was part of a third year unit/subject that requires Leisure Sciences students to spend 25 days (or 180 hours) in an industry placement. The following section describes the philosophy of the Leisure Sciences industry practice and explains how the campus events were implemented. This component of the Campus Alive project linked research with student learning.

The philosophy of industry practice (or fieldwork, practicum) supports the notion of learning by doing. Leisure Sciences students at Edith Cowan University have always been required to undertake a substantial amount of practicum during their course of studies. In past years these practicum units were non-HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) funded units. However in recent years, the University could not continue to support supervised, non-HECS units, so practicum was included as an assessable component in one unit each semester, with a semester long HECS unit of Industry Practice in the final semester. The underpinning philosophy has not changed, but it is administered differently with strong and clear links between theory and practice. (Further changes are imminent due to recent legislation regarding supervision of student placements.)

In their professional and industry placements students put into practice the theory and principles covered in such units as Leisure Leadership and Programming, Leisure Facility Planning, Leisure Research, Planning and Evaluation. The Campus Alive! Project was conducted through the third year Industry Practice unit. Work-based university learning usually involved students going outside the university (Hunt 2000), but this was the first time that students would conduct their extended practicum on a real project within the university. It gave Leisure Sciences students the opportunity to relate topical research /survey outcomes to practice, to gain practical experience and, as a consequence to provide some social activities for students on Joondalup Campus.

The intentions of the events were two-fold: to take the survey results and have two students plan and conduct activities of interest to students on Joondalup campus during semester 2, 2000. The survey showed that the desired activities of first year students on campus were: Tavern 33%, Social 13%, Party 8%, Sport 8% and Music 3%. In response to a previous question 50% of students indicated that they would spend more time on campus if suitable activities were provided. The activities to be conducted for the Campus Alive! project were based on low-key social activities of the nature suggested from these results.

The third year students were canvassed for interest in being the events coordinators for the project. The aim of the project was to provide a number of low budget recreational events to increase the social interactions of Joondalup students. The coordinators were required to plan, promote, implement and evaluate 3 or 4 special events, each of about 2 hours duration. Events coordinators were expected to budget for the events to break even or make a small surplus to subsidise the next event. The coordinators were encouraged to seek sponsorship or donated prizes. Initially it was also intended that First Year Leisure students would be recruited and trained to assist in running of the events, however this aspect of the project was not developed. An evaluation of each event and the project at the end of the semester was conducted to assess the general campus students' awareness of the events.

The student team of two third year students (supervised by a recent Masters graduate and staff) planned and conducted several sausage sizzles, films, happy hours and social sports that were widely promoted by fliers and closed circuit TV across the campus. The outcomes of the Campus Alive! project was reasonable — 20-40 students attended the sausage sizzles; the film screenings were less successful; 150 attended a "happy hour" at the Sport Centre event (cheap drinks and music), where usually only 3-5 people would attend during the lunch hour. It was not a huge response, and the outcomes were not all that were expected in terms of student response and student management.

The supervisors of the industry practice students found an issue with students "doing prac" on campus and the separation of university work and industry work. Student perception of practice on campus organised by an academic department appears not to equate to external industry placements. One student confessed at not taking the task as seriously as if the project had occurred in a "real" off-campus industry location, such as a leisure centre. There needs to be further exploration of this issue to determine if it was a unique situation (due to student selection) or a trend with other on-campus work experience and work based learning opportunities. The students who organised the events, however, gained much from the experience about event organising and administration, personal time management, and responsibility and accountability.

The Campus Alive! project attempted to create student learning opportunities to deal with a real issue evident on Edith Cowan University campuses. The impact of this project was not huge — one or two sausage sizzles are not the answer. Campus life is a university wide concern from buildings and landscape design to support of student amenities.

Summary

This paper outlined the process and results of a survey of 500 first year student on Joondalup Campus and provided a benchmark for future longitudinal or cross-institutional studies. It explained the background to a problem of campus life attracting students to remain on campus to participate in social and other non-course related activities. The Campus Alive! project was presented as one way to integrate student learning and provide some small events to brighten life on Joondalup Campus.

References

Ballantyne, C. (2000). Are they glad they came? First year students' views of their university experience. In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/confs/tlf/tlf2000/ballantyne.html

The Australian (2000, July 12). Campus life losing appeal to students. p.44.

Times Education Supplement (1997, May 2). Campus student is a threatened species: The next five years could see a revolution in the way education and training are delivered, driven by new technology. p.A12.

Hunt, L. (2000). Work based learning in universities: International study program report, May 2000. [viewed 10 Dec 2000] http://www.ecu.edu.au/ssa/worklinks/resources/international.html

Kuh, G. (1995). The other curriculum: Out-of-class experiences associated with student learning and personal development. Journal of Higher Education, 66(2), 123-33.

Reisberg, L. (2000). Proliferation of campus clubs: Too much of a good thing? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 47(5), p.A47.

Reisberg, L. (1999). Colleges struggle to keep would-be dropouts enrolled. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 46(7), p. A54-7.

Please cite as: James, K. and Colyer, S. (2001). Campus Alive! A project to explore student attitudes to campus life. In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/james.html


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