UCLA’s approach to assessing campus climate seems to consist of little more than Venn diagrams and an iPhone X.
The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’s research and development branch, BruinX, recently finished beta testing a mobile app aimed at better gauging campus climate. The app, BruinXperience, will roll out in fall quarter and remind students to complete a survey every two weeks, so as to give frequent data to researchers.
The goal is ambitious and the intent admirable. But the app’s faulty design fails to take into consideration the students it will survey, and only further highlights how detached the administration has become from the campus community.
In order for any conclusions to be meaningful, the app will depend on regular engagement from a large number of students. But UCLA has done little to motivate participation beyond raffling off a new iPhone X.
Such lazy methods of engagement demonstrate how little administrators know about their students. UCLA professors and teaching assistants are barely able to persuade students to fill out just one end-of-the-quarter evaluation, sometimes even when they factor it into students’ grades. A slim chance at winning a new smartphone is unlikely to encourage regular participation from students.
Administrators have said the new app is not meant to replace any current structure for surveying campus climate, and act as a source for additional data the university can base decisions off.
But it doesn’t take an expert in statistics to recognize the glaring holes in their approach. By not controlling for the demographics of students who they actually gather data from and relying on voluntary participation, administrators could wind up with a pool of participants that isn’t representative of the campus as a whole.
For starters, the survey answers would suffer from volunteer bias, where answers would be skewed in a particular fashion given the subset of students who would bother to answer are either curious students or those in tune with the administration’s plans.
Moreover, the app stands to give little insightful data at all. Its current format involves answering merely two simple questions. The first one presents the user with six Venn diagrams to choose from to show how synced with the UCLA community they feel. The next question asks the user to explain their choice for the first question.
This approach to getting the campus’ pulse is laughable. Just asking students how much they feel part of the university community is unlikely to elicit useful information about campus climate, especially when asked in such a simplistic format. On top of that, it does little to probe into the discord the campus faces when controversial events take place, be they the inviting of alt-right speakers or divisive student government elections – events the administration should seek to understand through a data-driven approach, not through having students choose between low-quality blue and yellow pictures on an app.
There’s certainly potential if UCLA takes a more active approach in reaching out to a representative group of students on a regular basis and catering questions to their personal experiences.
But implementing an effective program would require administrators to realize students are more than just individuals who would mindlessly fill out a survey every two weeks for a chance to win an iPhone X. Rather, students are a complex population with varying experiences and viewpoints on the campus.
BruinXperience’s data would at least prove that much.