On 21 August 2015, students enrolled in ENGL 1113: Composition I, Sections 025, 044, 084, and 102, during the Fall 2015 instructional term at Oklahoma State University were asked to complete an online survey, one administered anonymously via Google and offering a grade reward to encourage participation; a report of the event appears here. The survey asked students about demographic and academic data before posing open-ended questions about class expectations and anticipated course performance. At the time, 76 students were enrolled in the four sections, 19 in each. Responses to the survey totaled 75, with 18 each from Sections 025 and 044, 22 from Section 084, and 17 from Section 102. The over-reporting in Section 084 may result from students making improper or incorrect selections; it may also result from multiple submissions made in attempts to earn grade rewards. In either case, uncertainty is introduced to the results of the survey, although the results can still be put to use.
What follows reports summaries of the collected data before moving to conclusions and implications about and of the same. It follows the survey reported in “Reflective Comments about the 2015 CEAT Summer Bridge Program” in collecting data about students, and it will likely be followed by other surveys yet to come.
Students were asked to report age, gender identification, racial and ethnic identifications (following the 2010 US Census Bureau categories and definitions), and socio-economic status. Available answers for age were “Under 17,” “17,” “18,” “19,” “Over 19,” and “Prefer not to respond.” Students were allowed to select one and only one answer. Sixty-two respondents (82.7% of the total) reported being 18, with eight (10.7%) reporting being 19, three (4%) over 19, and 2 (2.7%) 17. No respondents reported being under 17, and none opted not to answer. The result corresponds with a largely traditional student body enrolled in a first-year course.
Available answers for gender identification were “Female,” “Intersex,” “Male,” “Trans,” “Prefer not to identify,” and “Other.” Students were allowed to select one and only one answer. Thirty-eight respondents (50.7% of the total) reported identifying as male; the remainder (37, 49.3% of the total) reported identifying as female. No other answers received response. The answer is somewhat at variance with prevailing understandings of the college population, which repeated reports insist is more female than male.
Available answers for racial identification were “American Indian or Alaska Native,” “Asian,” “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,” “Black or African-American,” “White,” “Some Other Race,” and “Prefer not to identify.” Students were allowed to select multiple answers. Sixty respondents (80% of the total) reported identifying as White, with 11 (14.7%) reporting identity as American Indian or Alaska Native, eight (10.7%) reporting Black or African-American identity, five (6.7%) reporting Asian identity, and four (5.3%) reporting identification with some other race. No respondents reported being Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and none refrained from identification.
Available answers for ethnic identification–specifically, identification as Hispanic–were “Yes,” “No,” and “Prefer not to identify. Students were allowed to select one and only one option. Sixty-nine respondents (92% of the total) responded in the negative; six (8%) responded in the affirmative. None refrained from identification.
Socio-economic status was posed as an open-ended question. Thirty-five students responded with “middle-class” or some approximation thereof, with a few offering definition or explanation of what that status means. Thirty refrained from responding. Four identified as upper middle class, and two as lower middle class. One each reported being “rural,” “lower” class, and uncertain of how to reckon socio-economic status. The preponderance of middle-class and similar identifications (upper- and lower-middle-class) appears to correspond with prevailing ideation of populations at state universities.
Students were asked to report section of enrollment, classification, current GPA, College of major, major, and minor (if available). Section of enrollment is discussed in the introduction to this report.
Available responses to classification were “Freshman,” “Sophomore,” “Junior,” “Senior,” and “Prefer not to respond.” Students were allowed to select one and only one answer. All 75 respondents reported being freshmen, appropriate to a first-year–and, indeed, a first-semester, course.
Available responses about current GPA were “3.5+,” “3.0-3.499,” “2.5-2.999,” “2.0-2.499,” “1.5-1.999,” “1.0-1.499,” “Below 1.0,” “No GPA recorded yet,” and “Prefer not to respond.” Students were allowed to select one and only one answer. Fifty-eight respondents (77.3% of the total) reported having no GPA recorded as yet, with nine (12%) reporting having a 3.5 or better, seven (9.3%) between 3.0 and 3.499, and one (1.3%) opting not to report. The results appear to accord with incoming students, of whom some might have taken dual-credit or other credit-bearing coursework previously.
Available responses about the College of major included “Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources”; “Arts and Sciences”; “Education”; “Engineering, Architecture, and Technology”; “Human Sciences”; “Spears School of Business”; “Undeclared”; “Prefer not to identify”; and “Other.” Students were allowed to select one and only one answer; “Other” was indicated as the appropriate response for those pursuing double majors whose majors cross Colleges. Eighteen students (24.3% of the total) responded with “Engineering, Architecture, and Technology.” Fifteen students (20.3%) responded with “Arts and Sciences”; the same number responded with “Spears School of Business.” Ten (13.5%) responded with “Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources,” eight (10.8%) with “Human Sciences,” four (5.4%) with “Undeclared,” three (4.1%) with “Other,” and one (1.4%) with “Education.” None refrained from identifying.
Majors were reported in open-ended questions. After coding to consolidate effectively equivalent responses, 47 separate responses emerged. Notably, eight students reported majoring in Mechanical Engineering, six reported majoring in Marketing (four in that field alone, two as a double major with Management), and five in Animal Science (four in that field alone, one as a double major with Agricultural Education). Three reported having yet to declare a major, and one refrained from identification.
Minors were also reported in open-ended questions. After coding to consolidate effectively equivalent responses, 14 separate responses emerged. Thirty-nine students reported being unsure of whether they would take a minor or what it would be; 19 reported having no intention of taking a minor at this time. Five refrained from responding. Stated minors included Agricultural Business, Criminology, English (for two respondents), Geography or History, Marketing, Mechanical Engineering, Music, Political Science (for two respondents), Psychology, Sociology, and Spanish.
Conclusions and Implications
While the responses to the part of the survey detailing expectations are reserved for instructional use, the demographic and academic data provided offer some insights into the work of teaching that will mark Sections 025, 0444, 084, and 102 of ENGL 1113: Composition I during the Fall 2015 instructional term at Oklahoma State University. Perhaps chief among those insights is the diversity of the students in the class. While they are largely uniform in age, they are far from uniform in background or in the directions of study they envision. This presents some challenges to instruction, as diverse audiences require diverse examples and approaches to reach effectively. It also presents some advantages, as diversity in the classroom admits of multiple perspectives on assigned work and readings, and the consideration of those divergent perspectives potentially illuminates classroom material and discussion in was unexpectedly beneficial. Additionally, classroom diversity vitiates against stereotyping and ossification, neither of which serve intellectual work well.
There is a sense that first-year composition serves as a microcosm of the collegiate experience as a whole; Timothy Carens addresses it in a September 2010 College English article, “Serpents in the Garden: English Professors in Contemporary Film and Television,” for example. The academic and demographic data collected by the survey, in indicating a diversity among the students, speaks in some ways to that sense; multiple colleges and majors are represented among respondents, as are multiple socio-cultural backgrounds. If the age-range is perhaps restricted, that is something common to residential undergraduate colleges, entry into which often follows closely upon high school graduation and which is often regarded as marking a transitional period into particular kinds of adulthood. (Other curricula, loosely interpreted, act similarly. Military service, for example, marks a particular type of adulthood, as does trade school.) How predictive the course can be of future success is debatable, but the four sections surveyed do appear to be positioned to offer the students enrolled in them some idea of what collegiate study can be, and that is a hopeful thing.