On 28 September 2015, students in 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 was brief, asking students to identify which section of the class in which they are enrolled before posing open-ended questions about events in the class. At the completion of the survey, 1430 on 2 October 2015, 71 students were enrolled across the four sections. Responses to the survey totaled 69, with two eliminated due to obvious or admitted duplication; the summary of the survey data presented below accounts for the eliminations by discussing only 67 responses: 15 from Section 025, 18 from Section 044, 17 from Section 084, and 17 from Section 102. It is possible that some students submitted more than one response in a manner that has not been identified, imposing some limitations on the results reported and on the conclusions drawn from them.
This report and the survey which informs it follow the work done for the “Report of Results from the Fall 2015 ENGL 1113 Entry Survey,” here, and its predecessors. What successors will follow, if any, are as yet unclear.
The report makes use of nomenclature common to classroom discussion and documentation. Reference thereto can be verified on the course syllabus and calendar for the Fall 2015 instructional term at Oklahoma State University, here.
Questions about Class Events
Questions about events in the class were
- Of the assignments so far (LitNarr PV, RV, and FV; Profile PV and RV; Riddle Quizzes 1, 2, and 3), which has been the most helpful? How has it helped you?
- Of the assignments so far (LitNarr PV, RV, and FV; Profile PV and RV; Riddle Quizzes 1, 2, and 3), which has been the least helpful? What has made it less helpful than it could be?
- What one thing would you like to see your instructor start doing in the class? What would make it good to see?
- What one thing would you like to see your instructor stop doing in the class? What makes it bad to see?
- What one thing would you like to see your instructor continue doing in the class? What makes it good to see?
Answers to the First Question
The LitNarr was the most favored component of the class when the survey was taken; 31 respondents indicate that the LitNarr as a whole or one of its components was most helpful. Fourteen of them respond with the project as a whole, nine the RV, three the FV, and two the PV. The remaining three indicate that the RVs on both the LitNarr and Profile were particularly helpful. Reasons reported include opportunities to receive and incorporate feedback for later papers, introduction or reintroduction to writing at the college level, and introduction to the assessment standards of the class.
Eighteen indicate that the Profile or one of its components was most helpful. Five indicate that the project as a whole was of use, while seven indicate that the RV was most helpful, and three each indicate the PV or the RV in conjunction with the LitNarr RV. Reasons reported include more detailed feedback, more accessible feedback, the opportunity to connect with classmates, and the novelty of the assignment.
Thirteen indicate that the riddles, singly or in conjunction, were most helpful. Twelve claim the whole set, while only one singles out Riddle 1 as most useful. Reasons include identification of usage concerns and the opportunity to justify answers without worrying about the correctness of those answers in themselves.
The remaining responses indicate that the essays as a set are useful (five), that all of the assignments are of equal helpfulness (one), that none of the assignments seem helpful (one), and that what assignment is most helpful is unclear (one). Reasons offered vary.
Answers to the Second Question
Least favored among the assignments thus far in the class are the riddles; 21 respondents indicate dissatisfaction with one or more of them. Fifteen decried the whole exercise, with four identifying the first as particularly troublesome, one arguing against the second, and one arguing against the second and third in combination. Reasons offered include prior dislike of riddles, limited scope as compared with the essays, and lack of obvious connection to the papers being written.
Peer reviews as a whole are next most decried, with 12 respondents identifying the pair as equally unhelpful. Six others single out the Profile PV as particularly unhelpful, and two others the LitNarr PV. Reasons include insufficient preparation by writers whose work was to be reviewed and a perceived lack of authority to critique one another’s work.
The Profile attracts negative attention, as well, with 16 indicating dissatisfaction with the project or its components. Nine report disfavor of the whole project, with six disliking the PV (as noted above) and one the RV. Reasons include unfamiliarity with the subject and approach.
Eleven respondents disdain the LitNarr as a whole or in its components. Eight dislike the whole endeavor, two the PV (as noted above), and one the RV. Reasons offered include confusion about the assignment guidelines and distaste for personal or reflective writing.
Remaining responses do not single out anything as less helpful than the rest. For six, it is because all assignments are seen as useful. For one, it is because none are.
Answers to the Third Question
A plurality of responses, 23, are some variation of “nothing.” Reasons tend to be variations on “things are going well; do not change them.”
Twenty-one responses call for some increased explicitness of instruction: six call for more examples to be provided, two for more lecture time, and one each for more visuals, more explicit notes, more attention to proofreading, and more provision of explicit definitions. Reasons offered include varying learning styles and a desire to correct problems before they arise.
Twelve responses ask for some form of increased access to the instructor. Seven of them ask for some variation of “be nicer,” whether it is to smile more in class or to adjust tone to come across as more pleasant. Two ask for more jokes, two others for more individual attention, and one for greater engagement, loosely defined. Reasons include building greater rapport and inflicting less damage on student self-esteem.
Nine responses ask for adjustments to assignments and their sequence. Three ask for more in-class assignments, of which two ask for more riddles; the last asks for reading quizzes as a punitive measure. Three ask for a broadening of essay topics in favor of greater writerly interest, two ask for shorter papers against difficulties meeting assigned length, and one asks for more time to complete papers.
One of the remaining responses asks for earlier release from classes, citing boredom with discussion of the readings in class. The other echoes the sentiment, asking for less time to be devoted to discussion of readings.
Answers to the Fourth Question
A majority of respondents (35) indicate no desire to see any practices discontinued. Reasons expressed tend to be variations on “things are going well; do not change them.” They are joined by three students who find themselves unsure of what practices should be discontinued.
Seven responses identify a tendency to go off on tangents as a thing to stop. Reasons cited include distraction for both students and instructor.
Six respondents each identify as problematic what can be called overshooting and fearmongering. That is, six students report feeling as if the instructor addresses them at a higher level than they can accept, and six report feeling as if their instructor wants them to be afraid.
Two students ask for a reduction in the incidence of repeated readings, citing the impression of wasted time. Two others ask for jokes to be discontinued due to inaccessibility of references made in them. Another two responded with answers clearly meant in jest.
One student asked for quizzes to be discontinued, citing as problematic the loss of grades due to absences. Another expressed concern about the occasional bout of seriousness in the class, calling it stifling. Yet another comments that peer-to-peer interaction during lecture are on-topic, rather than off-topic as class usually identifies them. Still another remarks that helpful comments on papers preclude the need for much discussion.
Answers to the Fifth Question
Ten students indicate that the instructor’s penchant for humor is something to continue. Reasons offered include easing classes at the beginning and end of the class day and general enlivening of a subject often deemed dull.
Nine students report the provision of examples in response to questions as a practice to maintain. The specificity and concreteness of examples are cited as beneficial.
Seven each cite the open discussions and the general verve of instruction as practices to continue (with enthusiasm distinguished from jest). The former are lauded because of their perceived responsiveness to student needs, the latter for much the same reason as the jokes noted above.
Six students each remark that professorial openness and riddles should continue. The former is justified through development of rapport, the latter through offering proofreading and critical thinking practice.
Five students report wanting to see the detailed comments on papers continue, citing their specificity as helpful. Related is the one respondent who addresses the rapidity of assignment return, noting that the timely provision of comments does much to stimulate development across assignments.
Five other students ask for all current practices to be continued. Reasons vary.
Three students cite accountability as something to keep promoting. The respondents report that being held to task breeds a feeling of competence and adulthood noted as desirable.
Two students each cite lectures and attentiveness to student concerns as worth continuing. The remaining responses see one each addressing the writing process followed in the class, the instructor’s display of knowledge, the instructor’s statements of faith in student abilities, and the pace of the class as work continuing. Reasons vary.
Conclusions and Implications
The high rate of completion suggests that the survey results are representative and of value for the classes surveyed–although, as noted above, there is some room for error. Both non-respondent students and the potential for duplicate submissions that do not readily reveal themselves introduce some uncertainty to the results. Even so, the survey results can be taken as strongly indicative of the overall tenor of the class.
Some of the survey responses were addressed in preliminary fashion during lecture on 30 September 2015, as noted here. Tangents, for example, received note, as did the perception of fearmongering. The latter remains somewhat troubling, however. Since few details about what promotes the feeling of fear among students are provided in the survey answers, however, not much can be done to address the issue. What makes for “more personable and less intimidating while still being a firm professor,” in one student’s words, or what indicates a frustrating attitude, to paraphrase another’s, is not made clear; without such refinement, adjustments cannot be made effectively.
Overshooting needs some attention. Instruction that is firmly on-level with students does not promote development or improvement; building knowledge and skills necessarily means presenting things that are beyond students’ current abilities, following Vygotsky’s idea of the zone of proximal development. That concern over overshooting conflicts with student reports of appreciation for being held to task also complicates addressing it, but it is something to adjust for; work will be done in that line moving forward.
The results of the survey do not suggest that major changes to assignments and their sequencing need to be made at this time. Some could not be adjusted in any event, as the heft of the major papers is determined by program dicta (so those students asking for shorter papers will be disappointed). Plans are already underway to make explicit the connections of the riddles to the papers, for example, in terms of the transferability of the skills practiced therein to such major papers as the TxtAn and Eval. Plans to adjust the cited-as-needing-attention PVs are also in motion; students are being directed more narrowly on future iterations of the exercise.
The overwhelming indication that current practices should not be discontinued comes as something of a surprise. It is often the case that complaints about what goes on in the classroom take precedence over other things that can be said about it. To have at least tacit validation–since a lack of condemnation bespeaks acceptance, at least–is therefore welcome. I shall endeavor to work to be more worthy of the trust shown in me.