Reflective Comments about Fall 2015

Following a pattern begun in my earlier teaching materials (witness posts here, here, here, here, here, and here) and continued at the end of the 2015 CEAT Summer Bridge Program at Oklahoma State University, comments below offer discussions of student demographics and performance across the term in ENGL 1113: Composition I, Sections 025, 044, 084, and 102 during the Fall 2015 instructional term at Oklahoma State University, as well as presenting overall impressions and implications for further teaching. Attached, too, is a summative document (here), providing best versions of the course syllabus, course calendar, and major assignment sheets offered to students in the noted classes and term.

Class Demographics

Demographic data were assessed near the end of the Fall 2015 term through a survey not unlike that offered early in the term; the end-of-term survey is noted here. The results of the earlier survey are reported here. As in the earlier survey, both general and academic demographic data were solicited.

At the end of the term, a total of 66 students were enrolled across the four sections–16 in Section 025, 18 in Section 044, 15 in Section 084, and 17 in Section 102. The numbers represent declines: ten in total, comprised of three from Section 025, one from Section 044, four from Section 084, and two from Section 102. A total of 59 students responded to the end-of-term survey–12 from Section 025 (20.3% of the total), 16 from Section 044 (27.1% of the total), 13 from Section 084 (22% of the total), and 18 from Section 102 (30.5% of the total, among which at least one duplicate answer was identified). The mismatch of number of students and number of responses per section admittedly introduces some uncertainty into survey results, although they are likely to be minor.

General Demography

As in the earlier survey, 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. Thirty-seven respondents (62.7% of the total) attested to being 18 years of age, 19 (32.2%) reported being 19, and three (5.1%) reported being over 19 years of age. Results are consistent with first-year courses filled with largely traditional students, and if the students skew slightly older at the end of the term than the beginning, that is only to be expected.

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-one students (52.5% of the total) self-identified as male; the remaining 28 (47.5% of the total) identified as female, and no respondents selected any other option. At the end of the term, then, respondents skewed more male than early in the term, still at variance with the commonplace that more young women than men enroll in collegiate coursework.

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. Twelve respondents (20.3% of the total) self-identified as White, ten (16.9%) as Black or African-American, six (10.2%) as American Indian or Alaska Native, four (6.8%) as Asian, two (3.4%) as “Some Other Race,” and one (1.7%) as Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. One opted not to answer. The sharp reduction in students self-identifying as White from the early survey to the end-of-term survey is of uncertain source; changes to other sets of responses are of similarly unclear origin.

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. Fifty-four respondents (91.5% of the total) self-identified as non-Hispanic; the remaining five (8.5% of the total) self-identified as being Hispanic. Results are largely in line with the earlier survey.

Socio-economic status was posed as an open-ended question. Responses were coded to account for substantially similar answers, and the identified duplicate answer was eliminated. Doing so indicated that 27 respondents offered some variant on “middle class,” with three identifying themselves as upper-middle-class and two identifying themselves as lower-middle-class. The five students who offered definitions marked middle-class life as addressing material needs (food, shelter, clothing) without much additional luxury. Twenty-six respondents opted not to answer. Two respondents identified themselves as upper class. Three additional respondents gave unique answers; one identified as a student for socio-economic status, one reported being dependent upon parents, and the third identified “White” as a socio-economic determiner–an answer with uncomfortable implications. The preponderance of self-identifications, however, still corresponds with typical ideas of student populations at state universities.

Academic Demography

As in the earlier survey, students were also asked to report section of enrollment, classification, current GPA, College of major, major, and minor (if available). Section of enrollment is discussed above.

Available responses to classification were “Freshman,” “Sophomore,” “Junior,” “Senior,” and “Prefer not to respond.” Students were allowed to select one and only one answer. Fifty-eight respondents (98.3% of the total) reported being first-year students, one (1.7%) reported being a senior, and no other results were selected. The distribution is sensible against the expectation that first-year students take first-year classes.

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. Nineteen respondents (32.2%) reported having no recorded GPA as yet; another 19 reported having a GPA of 3.0 to 3.499. Eleven (18.6%) reported a GPA of 2.5-2.999; six (10.2%) reported a GPA of 3.5+. One each reported a GPA of 2.0 to 2.499 and 1.5 to 1.999. Two opted not to respond, and no other responses were submitted. The relative rise in students recording a GPA is perhaps due to preliminary scores; Oklahoma State University offers six-week grades to its students. They do not factor into the GPA proper, but they do allow an idea of class standing in advance of semester grades being determined.

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. Thirteen students (22% of the total) indicated having a major in Engineering, Architecture, and Technology; 12 (20.3%) in Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources; ten (16.9%) in Arts and Sciences;  seven (11.9%) in the Spears School of Business; six (10.2%) in Human Sciences; and three (5.1%) in Education. Four (6.8% of the total) responded with “Other,” while three (5.1%) identified as undeclared and one (1.7%) opted not to respond.

Individual majors were reported in open-ended questions. After coding to consolidate effectively equivalent responses, five students were found to identify as Mechanical Engineering majors. Five others reported Animal Science or some variant as a major; two reported Animal Science alone, while one each indicated a double-major with Agricultural Communications and Agricultural Education, and one other reported majoring in Animal Science as a precursor to veterinary school. Three reported some variation on a major in Computer Science; two indicated Computer Science alone as the major, with one other double-majoring in Computer Science and Secondary Education with English option. Three others reported majoring in Human Development and Family Sciences. Two reported majoring in each of Civil Engineering and Elementary Education. Another two reported majoring in a variation of Agricultural Education (in addition to the double-major listed above), one alone and one as a double-major with Agricultural Communications. Additionally, one each reported majoring in each of the following:

  • Accounting and Finance
  • Applied Sociology
  • Architecture
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Business
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Construction Management Technology
  • Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Computer Engineering
  • Economics
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Fashion Merchandising
  • Finance
  • Graphic Design
  • Health Education
  • Hotel and Restaurant Administration
  • Human Nutrition
  • Industrial Engineering
  • International Business
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Marketing
  • Mathematics
  • Multimedia Journalism
  • Nursing
  • Nutritional Sciences and Allied Health
  • Political Science and Foreign Language double major
  • Psychology (a duplicate answer was eliminated)
  • Sports Media
  • Wildlife Biology as a precursor to veterinary school
  • Wildlife Ecology and Management

Further, one student self-identified as undeclared; five students opted not to identify their majors. Such shifts among majors are not unexpected at any level of undergraduate work.

Minors were also reported in open-ended questions. After coding to consolidate effectively equivalent responses, three students were found to have reported minoring in Management and two in each of Philosophy and Spanish. One respondent each offered the following: Art; Business; Marketing; Music, Japanese, or German; Pre-Law; Pre-Vet; and Psychology. Additionally, 25 students reported having or desiring no minor. Eleven indicated being unsure of what minor they would select or if they would select one. Five opted not to identify (a duplicate response was deleted.) One student simply answered “Yes.” Such shifts as occurred in reported minor since the earlier survey are no less expected than changes to majors.

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Class Performance

Class performance was assessed by evaluating a series of major (Literacy Narrative, Profile, Textual Analysis, Evaluation, and Final Exam) and minor assignments, as well as such factors as professionalism and attendance, over the course of the instructional term and assigning grades in accordance with that evaluation. Other than attendance, handling of which was determined at the programmatic level, each was scored using a scale of A+ through zero, either directly or as a means of assigning categorical scores to be averaged for a final score. Factors contributing to grading were weighted unevenly, as indicated below:

  • Literacy Narrative, 10% of total grade
  • Profile, 15% of total grade
  • Textual Analysis, 20% of total grade
  • Evaluation, 20% of total grade
  • Final Exam, 5% of total grade
  • Special Exercise, 5% of total grade
  • Minor Assignments, cumulatively 15% of total grade
  • Student Professionalism, 10% of total grade

While discussion of individual assignments and individual student performance exceeds what is appropriate for such a report as this, general tendencies within and among the individual sections can be reported.

Section 025

Section 025 was scheduled to meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1030 in Engineering South Room 213A.

  • End-of-term enrollment: 16
  • Average class score: 72.796 (C)
  • Standard deviation: 11.059
  • Students earning a grade of A (90%+): 1
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 60%): 4 (all incurred absence penalties)

Student participation was generally restricted, perhaps as a result of the timing of the class. Four of the sixteen enrolled at the end of the term) lost points due to absences in the section than in any other this term, with one failing outright for that reason.

Section 044

Section 044 was scheduled to meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1330 in Classroom Building Room 108.

  • End-of-term enrollment: 18
  • Average class score: 78.255 (C)
  • Standard deviation: 7.165
  • Students earning a grade of A (90%+): 2
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 60%): 2 (both due to absence penalties)

Student participation in the section was excellent, although class discussions did tend to distraction throughout the term. Absences were most detrimental to this section’s performance; four students lost points due to absence penalties, with two failing the class outright for that reason.

Section 084

Section 084 was scheduled to meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 0830 in Morrill Hall Room 306.

  • End-of-term enrollment: 15
  • Average class score: 80.867 (B)
  • Standard deviation: 7.549
  • Students earning a grade of A (90%+): 1
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 60%): 0

Student participation in the class was generally good despite the early time of day. Remarkably, no students lost points due to absence penalties, although more withdrew from this section than from the other three. More than half (eight of the fifteen) of those who remained enrolled earned a grade of B.

Section 102

Section 102 was scheduled to meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1230 in Classroom Building Room 221.

  • End-of-term enrollment: 17
  • Average class score: 73.089 (C)
  • Standard deviation: 10.313
  • Students earning a grade of A (90%+): 1
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 60%): 2

Student participation was generally restricted, perhaps as a result of the timing of the class. Only one student suffered grade penalties due to absences, although none failed outright as a result of absences. Non-submission of assignments was higher in this section than in any other this term, contributing to lowered overall scores; both of the students who received a grade of F did so due to not submitting one of the major papers.

Overall Data

In aggregate, the four sections yield the following results:

  • End-of-term enrollment: 66
  • Average class score: 76.054 (C)
  • Standard deviation: 9.826
  • Students earning a grade of A (90%+): 5
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 60%): 8

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Impressions and Implications

Gaining perspective on results from the Fall 2015 term obliges looking back to the Spring 2014 term, the last time I had been assigned to teach sections of ENGL 1113 at Oklahoma State University. I did not track demographic data during that term, at least not in any substantive way, so I cannot offer comparisons between that term’s classes and those I taught in the Fall 2015 term in that regard. I can, however, comment about comparative grading. The classes seem reasonably in line with one another for the most part; the two sections of ENGL 1113 I taught in the Spring 2014 instructional term showed averages in the lower C range, somewhat lower than the aggregate scores of the Fall 2015 term’s classes. More students earned As in Fall 2015 than in Spring 2014, although the numbers are affected by the number of sections taught. Fewer students failed in the Fall 2015 term than in the Spring 2014 term, however, eight to nine, respectively. Whether this means that the students were better, my teaching improved, or my grading grew more lax is not clear. A combination of all three factors is likely at work.

There are matters I need to address as I move forward, I know. More explicit instruction earlier in assignment sequences will be helpful, including more detailed walk-throughs of assignments and various component parts thereof. So will narrower breakdowns of the assignments. Occasional comments have been made about the difficulty of reading my assignment sheets–not the formatting, but the content–although I am not sure how to address them more fully. Perhaps a “quick-and-dirty” section, such as many textbooks have at chapters’ ends, will be of use. Commentary to that effect might be welcome.

The Fall 2015 term was better than most previous terms at Oklahoma State University in the amount of sample work that was provided. I wrote more of the assignments alongside my students this term than in most previous ones. Perhaps it helped. (I note also that, in the event I teach ENGL 1113 at Oklahoma State University again, I will be able to pull from student examples, as well, having secured permission from many to use their work to that end. It should also help.) Certainly, it did not hurt; I shall continue the practice in future terms.

I also made an effort to make my classrooms more responsive and student-centered, if only through the series of surveys I administered during the term. The entry and exit surveys were used primarily to gather data that has since been reported, admittedly, but the Week 7 survey (results from which are reported here) and the survey used to determine the form of the Final Exam both sought specific student responses, using them to shape instruction and assignments after their conclusions. I hope that students came away from the exercises with a greater sense of agency in their classes; I do not think they came away with less a sense of ownership, and so I think I will be continuing the survey practice in future terms, as well.

In all, the Fall 2015 term was a rewarding experience for me; I hope it was for my students, as well. At its end, I find myself looking forward to the next term, waiting with hope for what it will bring.

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