Following up further on practices identified as useful during the Fall 2015 term, I asked students after their impressions of the course near the end of the Spring 2016 instructional term at both Oklahoma State University and Northern Oklahoma College, where I teach as of this writing. Students were asked to fill out a survey administered anonymously online via Google, one offering a grade reward to encourage participation; initial announcements of the event are here for Oklahoma State University students and here for Northern Oklahoma College students, and the surveys were open 25-29 April 2016, so that students had ample time to address the surveys. The same survey was administered to both sets of students.
Throughout the survey, 42 students were enrolled in my sections of ENGL 1213: Composition II at Oklahoma State University: 16 in Section 015, 14 in Section 023, and 12 in Section 040. Seven were enrolled in the section of ENGL 1213: Composition II I teach at Northern Oklahoma College. Recorded were a total of 43 responses: 12 from Section 015, 14 from Section 023, nine from Section 040, and eight from the section at Northern Oklahoma College. Errors in reporting are clearly indicated, likely in the form of duplicate submissions. Indeed, one obvious duplication was eliminated, leaving 42 usable responses. The possibility exists, however, that more respondents also made multiple attempts at the survey. Conclusions drawn from the data are therefore somewhat suspect, although overwhelming tendencies among the data may still probably be taken as useful.
As in an earlier survey during the Spring 2016 term, the survey issued on 25 April 2016 asked after demographic and academic data, largely through closed-ended questions. It also asked after general impressions of the course through open-ended questions. Responses to each are reported in order, as well as impressions and implications thereof.
Students were asked to self-report their age, their gender of identification, their race, their ethnicity, and their socio-economic status. Available answers to the first were “Under 17,” “17,” “18,” “19,” “20,” “21,” “Over 21,” and “Prefer not to respond”; students were allowed to select one answer. Of the respondents, 17 (40.48%) reported being 19. Nine (21.43%) reported being 8, seven (16.67%) reported being 20, six (14.29%) over 21, and three (7.14%) reported being 21 years of age. None reported being 17 or under, and none opted not to respond.
Available answers to the question of gender were “Female,” “Intersex,” “Male,” “Trans,” “Prefer not to identify,” and “Other”; students were allowed to select one answer. Of the respondents, 21 (50%) reported identifying as female and 19 (45.24%) reported identifying as male. One each (2.38%) reported identifying as intersex and “other,” with the “other” reporting an identification as “my own person.”
Available answers to the question of race were “American Indian or Alaska Native,” “Asian,” “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,” “Black or African-American,” “While,” “Some Other Race,” and “Prefer not to identify”; definitions follow 2010 US Census Bureau standards. Students were allowed to select multiple answers. Of the respondents, 35 (84.33%) reported being White, four (9.52%) Black or African-American, two (4.76%) Asian, and one (2.38%) American Indian or Alaska Native. None opted not to report.
Regarding ethnicity, students were asked whether or not they identify as Hispanic, following the 2010 US Census Bureau definition of the term. Available answers were “Yes,” “No,” and “Prefer not to identify.” Of the respondents, 40 (95.24%) identified as non-Hispanic; the other two (4.76%) identified as Hispanic.
Available answers to the question of socio-economic status were “Upper class,” “Upper middle class,” “Middle class,” “Lower middle class,” “Working class,” “Lower class/Underclass,” “Prefer not to identify,” and “Other.” Students were allowed to select one answer. Of the respondents, 18 (42.86%) reported being middle class, 12 (28.57%) upper middle class, five each (11.9%) lower middle class and working class, and two (4.76%) opted not to identify.
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Students were asked to indicate what section of the course in which they were enrolled, their classification, current GPA, College of major (or expected College at Oklahoma State University for students at Northern Oklahoma College, all of whom reported an intent to transfer to the University), major, and minor. Responses to the section question are noted above. Available answers for the classification question were “Freshman,” “Sophomore,” “Junior,” “Senior,” and “Prefer not to respond.” Students were allowed to select only one answer. Of the respondents, 30 (71.43%) reported being freshmen, seven (16.67%) sophomores, four (9.52%) juniors, and one (2.38%) a senior. None opted not to respond.
Answers regarding 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 only one answer. Of the respondents, 16 (38.1%) reported a GPA of 3.0-3.499; ten each (23.81%) 2.5-2.999 and 3.5 or higher; three (7.14%) 2.0-2.499, and one each (2.38%) 1.0-1.499 and 1.5-1.999. One other opted not to respond.
The question about Colleges of majors was expressed as “In what College is your major? (If you have a double-major that crosses Colleges, please fill out the “Other” line, below. Indicate which Colleges host your majors.).” It admitted of the following answers: “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, to allow for question directions to be followed, “Other.” Students were allowed to select only one answer. Of the respondents, nine (21.43%) reported majors in the Spears School of Business; seven each (16.67%) in the Colleges of Educaiton and Engineering, Archtecture, and Technology; six (14.29%) in Arts and Sciences; five (11.9%) in Human Sciences; four (9.52%) in Agricultural Sciences and Human Resources; and three (7.14%) undeclared. One (2.38%) opted not to identify the College of major.
The question about majors was expressed as “What is your major? (If you are a double-major, list both majors. If you are undeclared, note it. If you prefer not to identify, please type “Prefer not to identify.”).” It admitted of a short-answer response. After coding to consolidate equivalent answers, five respondents (11.9%) reported an Education major (three elementary, one secondary, one general). Three others (7.14%) reported an Animal Science major, with one emphasizing business and one other being explicitly pre-veterinary. Two each (4.76%) reported Design, Housing, and Merchandising (with one emphasizing interior design); Entrepreneurship (with one double-majored in Marketing); Finance; Health Education and Promotion; Marketing (excluding the double-majored student); Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; and Mechanical Engineering alone. One each (2.38%) reported majoring in Biochemistry, Biology, Chemical Engineering, Construction Management Technology, Forest Ecology, General Business, History, Multimedia Journalism, Nursing, Nutritional Science, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Strategic Communications. Three opted not to identify their majors, and three others reported being undecided or undeclared–although one of them indicated an intent to major in Mechanical Engineering.
The question about minors was expressed as “Do you have, or intend to take, a minor? If so, in what? (If you are unsure, note that you are unsure. If you prefer not to identify, please type “Prefer not to identify.”).” It admitted of a short-answer response. After coding to consolidate equivalent answers, 13 (30.95%) reported having and desiring no major. Eleven (26.19%) reported being undecided or unsure, although one of them noted considering minoring in Interpretation. Two each (4.76%) reported minoring in Accounting and Coaching Science. One each (2.38%) reported minoring or intending to minor in Agricultural Economics, Art, Botany, General Business, Graphic Art and Design, International Business, Marketing, both Mathematics and Hotel and Restaurant Administration, both Merchandising and Entrepreneurship, Philosophy, and Psychology. Three (7.14%) opted not to report their minors.
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Students were asked five questions, following a pattern established in earlier surveys:
- Of the assignments in the class, which has been the most helpful? How has it helped you?
- Of the assignments so far, 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 classroom? What would make it good to see?
- What one thing would you like to see your instructor stop doing in the classroom? What makes it bad to see?
- What one thing would you like to see your instructor continue doing in the classroom? What makes it good to see?
Of the responses to the first question, most attested that the longer assignments in the classes–the SOQ for students at Oklahoma State University, the ResPpr for those at Northern Oklahoma College–were most helpful. The depth of investigation permitted and the preparation for future work were repeatedly noted as reasons for the preference; a few noted the interrogation of their major as a cause for approval. Additionally, many of the University students commended the T&S assignment, largely because of its focus on students’ majors. Among the many other responses were three that asserted all assignments were of help, as well as one that disclaimed any benefit other than simple writing practice.
Of the responses to the second question, most from the University students noted the Infog. Many commented on viewing the assignment as irrelevant, either to their courses of study or to the perceived purposes of a writing class. The remaining answers seem reasonably well distributed among the other assignments in the classes, although relatively few railed against the longer papers (and none from the College). One noted a belief that no assignment was helpful, and three attested that all seemed to be.
Of the responses to the third question, 16 are variations on “nothing,” including iterations of “N/A” and general commendations. Several ask for more explicit analysis of examples, whether instructor-generated or student-derived, and some ask for more focused commentary about what needs to be changed on papers. A few note a desire for explicit praise, while a few others ask for less harsh assessment. Other answers were of assorted type, not displaying any clear patterns.
Of the responses to the fourth question, 20 are variations on “nothing,” including many that are that word alone, several iterations of “N/A,” and several commendatory statements such as “Everything my professor has done I enjoy and wouldn’t like to see any of it change” and “Nothing, really. I thoroughly enjoyed this course. Yes, it was difficult.. But it is truly the only course that I learned anything useful in this semester and will benefit me for a lifetime.” Several others, however, noted feeling condescended to or derided for asking particular questions during class time. A few noted the tendency towards tangents in lecture and discussion as needing to be curtailed, a few others reiterated a desire to be assessed less harshly, and one notably raged against certain assignments not offering 100% grades.
Of the responses to the fifth question, several cited the open-ended discussions in class as worth continuing. As many noted class opening with opportunities for students to voice questions about previous work is a practice worth maintaining; the two seem related. Specific comments commended explicit exemplification already included in class, whether the sample papers or in-class demonstrations.
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Impressions and Implications
It must be remarked that percentages reported are approximations, their values rounded to the hundredths place. Values reported may therefore not add up to 100%, even on questions that admit of only one closed-ended answer per respondent.
Demographic data read largely in line with expectations. Traditional first-year students commonly are commonly 18 years of age when they begin, and birthdays occur throughout the term, so the preponderance of 19-year-olds is not unusual. Similarly, it is a commonplace that more women than men pursue undergraduate education, so the greater number of respondents identifying as female than male is not unusual. The self-identification by one respondent as intersex is uncommon, however; it is the first time such a response has occurred on my surveys.
Given the areas most heavily served by Oklahoma State University and Northern Oklahoma College, the overwhelming whiteness of the student body is perhaps to be expected, as is the dearth of Hispanic students. (That only one respondent self-identified as Native American or Alaska Native is somewhat unusual, however.) Similarly, given the populations expected to attend community colleges and state universities, the prevailing identification by students as members of the middle classes is unsurprising.
Academic data were not outside expectations. Although all four sections I taught this term were of first-year coursework, the specific course (Composition II) is one that is often deferred; reasons vary. (Indeed, I sat for Composition II while a senior undergraduate English major.) The plurality of freshmen and significant proportion of other classes was therefore unsurprising. Similarly, the spread of GPAs across the spectrum of them was not out of the ordinary; Composition II is a general education class, almost universally required, so it is to be expected that a variety of previous performance levels would show up in it.
There was a bit of an oddity in responses to the questions regarding College of major and major, however. (Minors were largely as anticipated.) While the preponderance of business students is not unusual in higher education, generally, and the proportion of engineering students is not out of line for Oklahoma State University and its gateway school, Northern Oklahoma College, there did seem to be an uncommonly large number of education students and an unusually low number of agriculture students for the school. That said, the overall spread of majors seems to confirm (again) the assertions made by Timothy L. Carens in his September 2010 College English article, “Serpents in the Garden: English Professors in Contemporary Film and Television,” that first-year writing classes serve as microcosm of undergraduate education as a whole–and more so with such sections as I taught this term, with their greater spread of ages and classifications than the classes I taught last term.
Responses to questions about the course itself are always interesting. I was surprised by the number of students who expressed appreciation for the longer assignments in the course; the survey results seem to be at variance with what has been expressed during class discussions. Further, the large number of students who report at least having no problems with the class is comforting and, with some specific comments provided, flattering. Conversely, reports of feeling condescended to or derided are troubling–although the response is not necessarily surprising. I am aware that there is something in my manner that strikes people in such a way, although what that thing is is not always clear to me–certainly not in the moment of utterance, although at times I become aware of coming off in such a way shortly after doing so.
Clearly, then, there are things I am doing well in my classrooms. There are just as clearly things on which I need to work. Should I have the opportunity to teach again–which is not a certainty as of this writing–I shall endeavor to do more of the former and less of the latter. It is all that can be done, really.
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