What Students Say
Course evaluations from a recent semester revealed the following student attitudes toward English 1000.
Half of the students who took the course experienced pretty much what they expected (51%). Of course, that still leaves hundreds of students who were surprised in some way by what they found, both for the better and the worse. Out of the total responses, 22% said their experiences were more positive than they expected, usually because they particularly enjoyed the writing assignments or liked the instructor, or because they learned more than they anticipated; 10% simply identified the course neutrally as different from expectations; and 17% were surprised in a negative way. The most common reason behind negative responses was that students found English 1000 to be more challenging than they thought it would be.
Clarity of Grading Criteria
Most students, 77%, felt they understood the grading criteria used to assess their writing, leaving 23% who were confused or believed such information was not adequately provided. The criteria identified by students as most important in writing a good paper were, in order: (1) providing a thesis; (2) including evidence and analysis to support one’s claims; (3) preparing a well organized paper that remains focused on the task at hand; and (4) revealing an understanding of the structure, format, and conventions of academic writing.
When asked what key moment stood out as affecting their writing performance, 54% of students identified communicating with the instructor outside of the classroom as crucial to their success. Most often, this communication took place during scheduled one-to-one conferences, but email exchanges and dropping by to speak to instructors during office hours were also occasions for individual attention that proved helpful. In the next largest category after communicating with the teacher, 18% of students felt that instructors’ written comments on graded papers made a critical difference in improving their writing. While other key moments were mentioned by students, no other category amassed more than a small percentage of overall student responses.
Comparison to Other Students’ Experiences
Students in a given section of English 1000 can’t really know how the course might have been different in other sections that they never attended. But they talk to friends who are enrolled in the same course with a different instructor and inevitably make comparisons. When asked in what ways they thought their experiences were like or unlike those of students in other sections, only 7% said they didn’t know. Most students develop an impression of the course overall and of how their particular experience fits into that picture. While not an accurate indicator of the way sections and student experiences may actually differ, the following responses reveal how students feel about their experience in English 1000: 15% said their experience was probably the same as that of other students; another 15% recognized that their experience was different from that of other students because assignment topics vary from section to section, but this variance didn’t suggest to them that other sections were better or worse; 20% felt their experience was likely worse than that of other students, usually because they believed the assignments or the grading in their sections posed greater obstacles to success than other students faced; and 43%--the single largest category of responses--felt their experience was likely better than that of other students. It may be worth mentioning that, according to the students themselves, a harder class doesn’t necessarily mean a worse experience. That is, 6% of students overall (a subset of the 43% whose experiences were “better”) were confident their class was harder than other sections, but they still felt they had a more interesting time and came out of the course better prepared than peers in other sections.
The aim of English 1000 is to improve students’ writing ability, especially their ability to write academic papers for later courses. With this objective in mind, students were asked to rate the overall quality of the course as taught by their instructor. A significant majority of students rated the course better than average. Only 3% identified the overall quality as poor; 5% called it fair; 13% said average; 39% identified the course/instructor as good; and 40% evaluated the overall quality of their English 1000 course as excellent.