This project has provided me some interesting insight into conducting social research.
The matter of biggest frustration was getting an adequate number of responses. With using an online survey, it is very easy for potential respondents to ignore it. I posted the survey as a general post on Twitter and asked the BCM212 teaching team to retweet them in order to increase visibility of the survey. I received a couple of responses doing this.
However, I found that the most effective ways to garner responses was to either:
Ask my peers in person during class, or
Reply to other students’ tweets asking people to complete their surveys. I would complete their survey, and leave a reply that I’d done it, here is a link to mine, can you please complete it for me?
In the end it took a long time for me to have enough responses to be able to conduct any proper analysis. What I found was… fairly inconclusive. I believe it would have been very useful to have either a larger sample size, or to use the received responses to conduct further and more specific research. This would certainly have been a bit more conclusive than what I currently have.
In the process of developing my own survey, I had a look at some of the other already open surveys created by other students. I found some of these surveys did not allow me the option to answer accurately, and they seemed to expect certain responses. I took this into account while creating my own survey and tried to keep the questions and potential responses as unbiased and inclusive as possible.
As previously stated in my research proposal, a 2015 report by the Ohio State University Center for the Study of Student Life (CSSL) most students engaged in student clubs and organizations felt there were several advantages in being involved in student societies (p.4). Advantages include:
Improved problem solving skills
Better stress management
A greater sense of connection to the university community (p.4)
Despite these benefits, the same report found that only 33% of commuter students were engaging with student clubs (p.2), and almost 50% of commuter students overall did not feel involved with their university peers (p.6).
Comparatively, 63% of near- and on-campus students were engaged with clubs (p.2), and only 25% did not feel involved with their university peers.
A 2017 report (Thomas & Jones) had similar findings that British commuter students were less socially engaged than their peers (p.37), with interviewed students citing duration of travel and public transport timetables as obstacles to social engagement (p.37).
So, I wanted to compare how the travel requirements among my fellow UOW students might have influenced their club engagements. Perhaps if student clubs and the university were more aware of any issues faced by students, they’d be able to find ways to better accommodate these students, which in turn could improve student connectedness with their peers and the university.
An anonymous online survey was developed and made available for fellow BCM212 students to complete. Questions included:
How many student clubs or organizations are you involved in?
How long does it take you to reach university from your current place of residence?
Do you think your travel requirements are an obstacle to your club engagement?
Would you be interested in being more engaged in student clubs than you currently are?
Of the 244 student enrolled in BCM212 this semester, a total of 29 survey responses were collected; slightly more than 10% of the cohort. Thus, it is important to keep in mind that it is possible that this research might not apply to the BCM212 cohort as a whole. Furthermore, the BCM212 cohort is only a portion of students studying a Communication and Media degree, who in turn are only a portion of university students at the University of Wollongong. Thus, these results may or may not be consistent with the experiences of UOW students as a whole.
Of the 29 students who responded to the survey, only 8 students (28%) were involved in clubs. This was significantly lower than expected, and is certainly lower than findings by Ohio State CSSL (2015). The reasons for this are unclear.
It’s possible that UOW students are less involved in clubs than their peers in other universities; or this might be restricted to this particular sample group; or a myriad of other possibilities. Further research would need to be conducted to determine this.
Of the 8 involved in clubs, 5 were involved in a single club, 2 were involved in 2 clubs, and 1 was involved in 3 clubs.
Students travel time to university ranged from 5 minutes to 2 hours (note that 2 responses to this question were invalid). Students travelling up to an hour to university appear to have club engagements at a consistent rate, although students with shorter travel times appear more likely to be involved in more than 1 club.
Neither of the 2 responders requiring over an hour of travel are involved in clubs. However, this sample size is too small to make any definite conclusions regarding club involvement.
17 responders (58%) indicated they would be interested in being more engaged in student clubs. Of these, 7 responders (24%) indicated that their travel requirements were an obstacle to club involvement.
12 responders (41%) indicated that they are not interested in being more engaged in clubs, with only 3 responders (10%) indicating that travel would be an obstacle (if they did want to be more involved).
This might suggest that students with longer or more restrictive travel requirements are choosing not to engage in clubs due to those travel requirements. Comments left on the survey also support this:
“Living far from campus means I’m less likely to join extra curricular activities since it would mean getting home even later than usual.”
“I would love to do a sport but it’s too far.”
“Having to travel to university effects my motivation to participate in club/society activities as I’m required to factor in travel and accommodation.”
On the other hand, a third of students are interested in being more engaged, but don’t see travel as an obstacle. At this stage we can only speculate these students’ reasons for not engaging, but further research could help illuminate what these students see as obstacles. One respondent suggested that their work commitments were a major factor in preventing them from engaging in clubs as much as they would like.
General club engagement was significantly lower than expected with only 28% of respondents being involved in clubs. The reason for this is unclear, and further research would need to be done to determine if this is a general UOW trend or if this is isolated to the sample group.
Students with shorter travel times are more likely to be involved in more than one club, but this sample size may be too small to determine any specific relationships between student travel and club engagement. Further research could help paint a better picture, particularly with students travelling for over an hour.
58% of students are interested in being more engaged in clubs. Some indicated that travel is obstacle to this, while others indicated it is not. I believe it may be beneficial to look into the reasons students are not engaging in clubs, even when they are interested in doing so. In conducting further research, student clubs themselves and UOW may be able to find better ways to accommodate these students, thus increasing club involvement and potentially student connectedness with the university and their peers.
A 2015 report by the Ohio State University Center for the Study of Student Life found that the majority of students involved in student organizations experienced numerous benefits to their involvement (p.4). These benefits include:
Improved problem solving skills
Better stress management
A greater sense of connection to the university community (p.4)
That same report found that only 33% of commuter students were involved in these student organizations (p.2), and that almost 50% of commuter student overall not feeling involved with others at the university (p.6).
Comparatively, 63% of near- and on-campus students were involved with clubs (p.2), and only 25% of these student groups did not feel involved with others at the university (p.6).
This trend isn’t confined to U.S. universities either. A 2017 report (Thomas & Jones) similarly found that British commuter students had lower social engagement than their peers. Some of those students even reported that they would have enjoyed “further opportunities for social activities” (p.37).
But why does this difference exist?
There are multiple reasons, both personal and not, for why students choose not to engage in student organisations and clubs. But commuter students face the unique challenge of simply getting to and from any social events. Both duration of travel and public transport timetables can be huge barriers in students’ capability to socially engage.
“‘Most students I know who live on campus have the ability to go out for a night out or go anywhere they want within the local area without having to account for a bus journey back home. That really limits your options. A lot of the buses stop around eleven o’clock…'” (Thomas & Jones, 2017, p.37)
As a current student at the University of Wollongong, and a commuting student myself, I am curious to know if, and to what degree travel requirements impact my peers. In particular, I would like to know the general correlation between student travel times to and from university, and their involvement in clubs and club activities.
For example, does club engagement differ (and how big of a difference is there) between students living on campus, to those up to half an hour away, to those an hour or more away? Is there a general trend between travel times and club involvement? Is there a particular point where club engagement makes a sharp decrease? If yes, what is it?
To be clear, I am currently expecting to find decreasing social engagement with longer student commute times. I will endeavor to keep this bias out of the research process so that the results may better reflect student experience at the University of Wollongong.
Furthermore, I’d also like to uncover how late is too late for students. How do public transport timetables constrain students? How late can a student stay before their bus or train ceases service and they’re left stranded at university?
Achievable and Relevant?
With a known issue to be explored and the research goal set, there are two more things that need to be addressed:
Is this research achievable?
Would this research be relevant or useful?
In regards to achievability, yes I believe research project can be done within it’s allotted time of a single semester. This is a simple project that will require only a small amount of (mostly quantitative) data from participants. This particular research project has also already been constrained to a rather manageable participant pool: University of Wollongong students currently studying BCM212 (Understanding Research Practice). Thus, this should be an achievable project.
But will this research be useful?
As outlined above, students experience multiple benefits to being engaged members of student organisations and clubs, but some students may be being excluded from being able to participate due to factors outside of their control. With this research we might have a more specific understanding of the barriers these students face.
One major group who could find use in this information, is student clubs and organisations themselves.
Club executives could use the information when organizing club activities and meet-ups to potentially better accommodate students with travel difficulties where possible. This isn’t to say that clubs will be required to utilize this information – and there may be cases were accommodations simply cannot be made – but in keeping this information in mind, commuter students could be encouraged to get more involved.