Widgets Magazine

RA feedback pilot program goes campus-wide


This year, Stanford’s Residential Education (ResEd) Department piloted a new survey called the Staff Feedback Instrument (SFI) that gives dorm staff the opportunity to be rated by their residents.


ResEd designed the SFI to facilitate a conversation between Resident Assistants (RAs) and Resident Fellows (RFs) about how dorm staff members are performing and how they can improve in the future.


Over 4,500 students were invited to take the survey this year. The survey was an extension of a previous RA feedback project that ResEd had been working on for the past three years.


Jennifer Calvert, associate dean of ResEd, explained the progress of the survey in an email to The Daily.


“During the first year of development, we interviewed constituents to get a sense of what they thought would be useful information and to gather information about their preferences regarding timing, format and reporting,” Calvert said.


After surveying the residential community to determine what types of questions would be helpful to ask, the following year, ResEd performed a small pilot program of the SFI that surveyed six houses and gathered feedback for over 20 RAs.


Because the houses that participated in the pilot program last year responded very positively to the SFI, ResEd decided to expand the program this year to all 44 houses with Resident Fellows, according to Calvert.


The surveyed houses included a variety of dorms, from all-freshman houses to apartment-style dorms for upperclassmen.


Although participation data varied widely from house to house, Calvert stated that the program had an overall response rate of 47 percent.


“The SFI is unique in that it focuses on a provided rating from “poor” to “excellent” for each RA… The switch to a rating system was a byproduct of the interviews that took place during year one,” Calvert said.


Previous surveys conducted by ResEd asked residents to respond to a series of statements on a scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”


Residence staffs seem to think that the new wording gives RAs more direct feedback so they can focus their energies in improving areas in which they scored poorly.


“Both Resident Fellows and student staff seemed to agree that they would prefer items which gave them clear indications of their performance,” Calvert said.


The survey asks residents to rate RAs in 10 categories: approachability, reliability, ability to have interesting conversations, engagement in the house, organization, ability to consider multiple viewpoints, assertiveness, enthusiasm, reasonableness and ability to have intellectual conversations.


These 10 categories, Calvert said, reflect the three tenets that ResEd believes are important aspects of a successful residential experience at Stanford: building community, decision-making and intellectuality.


Residents also give RAs an overall rating reflecting a combination of all aspects of their performance.


“The purpose of the instrument,” Calvert said, “is to facilitate a conversation between student staff and their supervisors regarding student-staff performance as perceived by residents.”


Calvert emphasized that this survey is just one of many tools used by RFs in assessing how the dorm staff is working.


“What [the implementation of survey data] looks like exactly will vary as much as the residential experience varies across campus,” she said.


“This variation is important,” Calvert added, “because it allows us to customize the manner and degree to which we coach our student staff toward improvement.”


Although ResEd has high hopes for the survey, some dorm staff members are not sure about how successful it will be.


Kali Lindsay ’12, an RA in the all-freshman dorm Larkin, is one RA to express concern with the competitive nature of the survey.


“I felt a little weird about the whole thing… [the survey] compares RAs to each other and ranks them,” Lindsay said.


In addition to comparing RAs within houses, the survey also ranks RAs across campus.


Lindsay said currently the RFs in Larkin give staff members feedback through quarterly check-ins. Lindsay added that she wasn’t sure if the new surveying method would improve on the system that is currently in place.


The Resident Fellows for Larkin House, Patti Hanlon-Baker and Geoff Baker, said they would complement the ResEd SFI survey with a Larkin-specific assessment, hoping that the house-specific survey would espouse their values of “retrospection, introspection and prospection” more than the SFI alone.


In an email to The Daily, Geoff Baker wrote that the RF pair would prefer a survey method that is both “specific and actionable.”


“We want to learn what we can from the past with an eye on what we think we know about the present and future,” Baker said.