How to read a student engagement journey map

In preparation for our webinar this week, Ally and I wanted to show you how to read one of our student engagement maps. It’s easy, once you understand what all the stickers mean!

At the start of the interview, we ask the students to review the list of student engagement types (see image below).

A legend with the 10 opportunity types and sticker colors

For every activity they have done, they pick the corresponding sticker and add it to their paper timeline. We don’t have a ton of rules about how students make their map. This means we get a lot of different maps in the process and we believe it shows us how students are thinking about the weight of each experience. For example, some students will place a blue (organizational experience) sticker for each year or semester they participated. Other students place just one sticker to represent a longstanding commitment in a club. Ultimately, the questions we ask help to understand the map and without the interview, the map is a bit harder to read. Ally and I have discussed how we might make digital edits to the map in future publications or presentations, to help others easily understand the map.

So let’s read a map! Below is Olivia’s map. Olivia was our first interviewee, a senior and a Health and Human Development major. Her map is below:

A student engagement journey map with six colored stickers representing different engagement experiences

We would read Olivia’s map in chronological order, beginning with the rectangular stickers. Yellow stickers represent professional experiences, therefore, Olivia indicated participation in a professional experience during her freshman year of college. Her sophomore year consists of blue and bright green stickers, representing an organizational experience and a creative accomplishment. In the middle of Olivia’s map, she wrote PSU Transfer. This tells us that her freshman and sophomore years were completed at a different university and junior year was her first year as a Penn State student. Olivia’s junior year stickers tell us that after transferring to Penn State, she participated in a new organizational experience and a professional experience. Lastly, Olivia indicated another professional experience during her senior year.

Now let’s move to the smaller, circular stickers. The circles are not included on our key because they are not representing types of student engagement experiences. Instead, these stickers provide more details about the student engagement experiences, as well as the timing of their academic decisions. The green circle represents the engagement experience that the student found most rewarding. Olivia’s map tells us that her most rewarding student engagement experience was the organization she joined her junior year, right after transferring to Penn State. The red circle represents the engagement experience that the student found most challenging. For Olivia, her most challenging student engagement experience was a professional experience during her senior year. The yellow sticker represents when the student decided on their major. This map shows that Olivia decided on her major right before she transferred her junior year. Every student we interview  puts the green, red, and yellow circles on their map, however, the blue circle is not necessarily on every map. This sticker represents a leadership role and can be placed on any experience where a student held a leadership position. Olivia has the blue circle on her map because she held a leadership position in the organization she joined during her junior year.

As you can see, Olivia placed the most rewarding sticker and the leadership sticker on the same organizational experience. Although all of our maps look different, it is fairly common for students to put two circle stickers on the same student engagement experience. Out of our 17 students interviewed so far, five students noted the same experience as the most rewarding and the most challenging. We’re really intrigued by this decision and have discussed the possibility of writing an article about these students, gaining a stronger understanding of why a challenging student engagement experience can simultaneously be extremely rewarding for the student.

We hope this helps you understand the maps a bit more. As always, we love hearing from you, so if you have thoughts or impressions on these maps, get in touch!

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Head of Education & Outreach Services at Northern Kentucky University. When she's not in the library, Hailley is an avid oatmeal connoisseur, baseball scorekeeper, bike rider, embroidery queen, and reader of memoirs. Check her out on Twitter @hailthefargoats.

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