Report of the Survey of Writing Intensive Courses Fall 2003 Submitted by: Elizabeth Crepeau, Stephen Hardy, and Victor Benassi

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1 Report of the Survey of Writing Intensive Courses Fall 2003 Submitted by: Elizabeth Crepeau, Stephen Hardy, and Victor Benassi Purpose of the Survey This survey examines student perceptions of the benefit of writing intensive (WI) courses on their learning and their capacity to write for different audiences. Because this survey addresses student perceptions, we have no way to gauge from their responses the actual development of their capacity to write in different genres and for different audiences. The survey was developed with the assistance of the University Writing Committee, The University Assessment Fellows, and a small group of faculty experienced in teaching WI courses. The survey was pilot tested with 20 students; modifications in several questions and in the formatting of some of the questions were made after this pilot. Description of the Sample The sample was drawn from WI courses across the Durham campus of UNH. Each college was sampled separately. Each college sample included courses from the 400, 500, 600, and 700 levels. At least one course from each department was included in the sample. All courses with writing fellows were included. A total of 69 courses were solicited. Of these, surveys from 58 courses were returned, an 84% response rate. The 917 students responding to the sample are representative of the general UNH population across demographic, GPA, school, and class representation. See Table 1 for the background of students surveyed. In regard to class standing, first-year students were under-represented in the sample (13% of the sample versus 25% of the University population). This difference may be explained because English 401 was excluded from the survey.

2 Table 1: Background of Students Surveyed 1 Sample UNH 1. Gender Male 38% 43% Female 62% 57% 2. Age or older 5% 5% 3. First Language 2 English 97% Other 2.7% 4. Place of Permanent Residence United States 97% 99% Other 3% 1% 5. Class Standing First-year student 13% 25% Sophomore 20% 23% Junior 30% 23% Senior 37% 29% 6. Cumulative GPA Below 2.0 2% 5% % 16% % 30% % 17% 3.5 or higher 23% 17% Mean cumulative GPA College College of Liberal Arts 39% 41% College of Life Sciences and Agriculture 14% 13% College of Engineering and Physical Sciences 9% 10% Whittemore School of Business 20% 14% School of Health and Human Services 17% 14% Thompson School <.5% 3% Division of Continuing Education 1% 5% What Previous Experience Did Students Have with Writing Intensive Courses? Including the course in which they were enrolled, respondents reported having taken from zero to 12 writing intensive courses (See Table 2). The mean was / Eighty-four percent had completed English 401 (Freshman English). Of those completing English 401, 53% received a grade between A and A-, and 41.98% received a grade of B- to B+. These students were neutral on the benefit of English 401 relative to the writing intensive course in which they were currently enrolled (mean = / ). This neutral attitude could be explained in several ways. First, there may be a lack of congruence between the goals of the current course with English 401. Second, students may not automatically generalize their learning from English 401 to subsequent courses. If faculty in subsequent courses do not make this connection, it is unlikely that students will do so on their own. Third, there may have been a sufficient time lapse between taking English 401 and this survey to render the student response to this question less valid. 1 The entire UNH undergraduate student population in spring 2003 numbered 10,876. In the case of gender, age, and class standing, the 504 DCE students were not included in the total from which percentages were calculated. Distributions reported for these variable are the percents of the remaining 10,372 non-dce undergraduate students 2 UNH figures are not available

3 Table 2: What previous experience did students have with writing intensive course 8. Including this course, how many Writing Intensive courses, other than freshman English, have you completed? # of responses % % % % % % % % total 869 mean number of WI courses taken Have you already completed English 401 (Freshman English)? Completed AP exam % Currently enrolled 27 3% No % Yes % 10. If yes to Question 9 what final grade did you receive? A or A % B or B % C or C % D or F 2.26% # of responses Mean(5 sd point scale) 11. English 401 has benefited me in this writing intensive course Time and Grade Expectations Question 18 asked students to indicate their grade expectations for the course. Almost 90% of respondents expected to receive and grade in either the A or B range. Table 3 I expect my final grade in this course to be GRADE RANGE FREQUENCY PERCENT A or A B+, B, or B C+, C, or C D or F Pass/Fail 6.7 Question 19 asked students to indicate On average, how many hours per week did you spend writing outside the classroom? Please include time spent finding and reading resources, prewriting activities such as outlining, as well as actual time writing, revising and editing. Students reported a mean of 4.8 hours per week (median of 4 hours per week). General Attitudes Towards Writing Questions asked students to indicate their level of agreement/disagreement with a series of statements about the use of writing. Results from a 5 point scale were collapsed into three categories. As Table 4 indicates, respondents were generally positive about writing, although only a slight majority indicated careful planning to achieve their best writing.

4 Table 4 QUESTION % Disagree or % Neutral % Agree or Strongly Agree Strongly Disagree Writing is a tool for learning Writing is a career enhancing skill In general, I work on my papers so that they reflect the best work that I can do I usually plan my time so that I can draft and revise papers prior to final submission I use the feedback I receive on my papers to improve my writing During my time at UNH, I have developed the capacity to write effectively for different audiences and assignments Writing Assignments, Writing Processes, and Support Services Used in the Class Questions 20 and 21were intended to assess the range and amount of writing activities employed by instructors and students. Unfortunately, the questions were phrased in a way that led to high rates of non-applicable, which may be interpreted as meaning either that 1) the course did not contain the activities or 2) the course included the activities but the student did not find them beneficial. If one only looks at the column representing A good/great deal in Table 5, the results suggest that writing activities are clustered in predictable areas homework, response papers, essays, and research papers. Table 5 - The assignments in this course promoted my ability to write WRITING ENDEAVOR % Missing or Does Not Apply % Not at all % A Little/Somewhat Journal or other informal response paper In class responses, reactions, essays Homework involving writing Response papers Essays Literature reviews Short research papers Longer research papers Position papers Research article critiques Memos, business letters Lab reports Documentation (e.g progress notes) Plans (e.g. treatments, teaching) Grant applications % A Good/Great Deal

5 Results in Table 6 suggest a limited us of preparatory activities, peer review, writing conferences, and opportunities for revision Table 6 --These processes enabled me to meet the writing expectations of this course WRITING PROCESS % Missing or Does Not Apply % Not at all % A Little/Somewhat Preparatory activities (free writing, outlines) Drafting and revising Peer review Editing Writing Conference with Prof Opportunity to revise after submission % A Good/Great Deal While these questions appear to have confused students, Tables 5 and 6 still suggest that writing activities are limited in range and scope, perhaps indicating limitations in faculty pedagogy or faculty confidence in teaching writing. This is a fundamental area in need of greater research by the Writing Committee. Use of Support Services Question 22 examined student use of support services as well as student perceptions of the utility of those services. Table 7 suggests that students are not using support services in the CWC or CFAR at an appreciable level. Table 7 -- I used assistance from: Service % missing or does % NO % YES not apply Writing Fellow CWC Consultant CFAR The high percentage responses in the missing/does not apply category in Table 8 suggests either confusion over the question or a feeling that support services did not help in meeting course requirements (even though students may have felt they benefited in other ways). Table 8 also suggests that respondents were more familiar with the purpose of Writing Fellows and that Writing Fellows were more familiar with course requirements. Table 8 I used a support service and it assisted me in meeting course requirements Service % missing of does not apply % not at all % a little/somewhat % a good/great deal Writing Fellow CWC Consultant CFAR

6 Attitudes toward Faculty interaction and the Writing Process Table 9 suggests that students were generally pleased with the general interactions they had with faculty, although there is less satisfaction with feedback, a critical component of all learning, especially in writing. Further, less than half of the respondents felt the course helped them to become more confident or skillful writers. The last section of the report examines some qualitative differences between students who reported more skillful or confident outcomes versus those who did not. Table 9 Questions All of the writing experiences (informal writing to formal writing) in the course helped me learn the course content. How well I achieved the writing objectives for this course has strongly influenced the grades I have received. I received feedback that has helped me complete the written assignments more effectively. The teacher treated my writing with respect. The structure of the course enabled me to work on my papers in a timely way. I received timely feedback on my writing in this course. As a result of this course, I am a more confident writer. As a result of this course, I am a more skillful writer. % missing or not % disagree or % neutral % agree or applicable strongly disagree strongly agree Is There a Difference in Perceptions of students enrolled in courses with writing fellows versus courses without writing fellows? An important WAC initiative is the Writing Fellows program. The purpose of this program is to place trained writing fellows in classes to assist the professor with issues related to the WI aspects of the course. For example, writing fellows may assist students in developing ideas for papers, organization of concepts, and editing. Writing fellows do not grade student work. Courses without writing fellows ranged from 2 to 48 students, the average class size was 20. Courses with writing fellows ranged from 13 to 155 students, the average class size was 62. Analysis of variance was conducted on the courses with and without writing fellows. As Table 10 reveals, questions 23 to 30 demonstrate an interesting pattern, when controlled for the presence or absence of a Writing Fellow. Of these questions only two demonstrate a significant difference between the writing fellows group and the nonwriting fellows groups. The mean for Question 26, the teacher treated my writing with respect, for classes without writing fellows was /-.817, for classes with writing fellows the mean was / The difference between these means is significant at the.000 level. The mean for Question 27, the structure of the course enabled me to work on my papers in a timely way for classes without writing fellows was /-.943, for

7 classes with writing fellows the mean was / The difference between these means is significant at the.001 level. The means of the other questions were not significantly different. These findings suggest that writing fellows are an effective strategy to maintain student perception of the quality and effectiveness of writing intensive courses in larger classes. Table 10: Analysis of Variance of Courses with and Without Writing Fellows 23. All of the writing experiences (informal writing to formal writing) in the course helped me learn the course content. 24. How well I achieved the writing objectives for this course has strongly influenced the grades I have received. 25. I received feedback that has helped me complete the written assignments more effectively. 26. The teacher treated my writing with respect. 27. The structure of the course enabled me to work on my papers in a timely way. 28. I received timely feedback on my writing in this course. 29. As a result of this course, I am a more confident writer. 30. As a result of this course, I am a more skillful writer. Sum of Squares Df Mean Square F Sig Between Groups Within Groups Total Between Groups Within Groups Total Between Groups Within Groups Total Between Groups Within Groups Total Between Groups Within Groups Total Between Groups Within Groups Total Between Groups Within Groups Total Between Groups Within Groups Total

8 To What Extent Do Student Comments from High Confidence/Skill Classes Differ from the Lowest Skill/Confidence Classes In order to understand the particular perspective of students, we examined the comments of students in classes that scored highest and lowest on both questions 31 and 32 (as a result of this course, I am a more confident writer; as a result of this course, I am a more skillful writer). This purposive sample is designed to obtain comments that have the greatest opportunity to provide maximum variation in the feedback of students. High Confidence/Skill Group Students from four courses rated both questions 31 and 32 most highly. Two courses were excluded because the class size was one and two students respectively. The two remaining courses were at the 600 and 700 levels and from two different colleges. Neither course was supported with a writing fellow. A total of 47 students were enrolled in these courses (31 and 16), of these students 32 responded to the survey, a 68% response rate. In regard to confidence 97% of students wrote positive comments, only one student made a negative comment. In regard to skill, 75% of students wrote positive comments, one student (the same as for question 31) wrote a negative comment, and 22% students left this question blank. Within each course student comments were quite consistent with each other. Students reported that their confidence improved because of their work with the professor and being forced to think about the subject to understand it better. They also valued practice with argumentation, creating a thesis, improving analysis and revision skills, and exploring ideas and the ideas of others in more detail. One student commented The writing assignments focused on topics we were discussing in class. This forced us to take a position on issues and question our own assumptions so the debates were more open as opposed to people being completely settled in their beliefs. Another student said The writing activities in this class helped to make concepts of the course clearer to me and also helped to deepen my knowledge of the concepts. In regard to skill development students commented that their writing is more thoughtful, organized, structured and that they learned how to outline, map out the thesis, and develop their own opinions more effectively. They also valued the development of concise writing, use of facts and examples, and the capacity to revise. One student said My writing has developed an incredible amount. Through this course my methods for forming arguments as well as structuring materials effectively increased and perhaps maximized. I m a far better writer and thinker from taking this course.

9 Low Confidence/Skill Group Students from five courses rated their confidence and skill development most negatively. The courses represent all schools and colleges at UNH except WSBE. None of the courses were assigned a writing fellow. The courses are at the 500 to 700 level and have a range of students from 6 though 39. One hundred eleven students returned surveys, of these 85 or 77% wrote comments. In regard to confidence 61% of students wrote positive comments, 27% wrote negative comments, and 12% left this question blank. In regard to skill, 40% of students wrote positive comments, 36% wrote negative comments, and 24% of students left this question blank. The mixed student responses to these courses is interesting. In fact, the comments reflect very different interpretations of the same experience. Like the high confidence/skill group students in the low confidence/skill group valued the practice entailed in writing frequently and reported that they became more detailed, concise, and straightforward in their writing. They also valued the opportunity for learning that writing presented to them. In a course that entailed writing lab reports students commented that their technical writing skills improved and that they could write more scientifically. One student commented he or she had to Read, and search a lot, organize, understand, analyze, interpret, and make opinions and decisions about the topic in hand Interestingly, this same student reported in regard to the development of writing skill that not much changed. A more positive student commented on confidence this way And on skill The writing activities in this class made me more aware of including statistical support more frequently and that is was often relevant support for arguments. This course made me think more about scientifically supporting my evidence. These positive comments are in stark contrast to the negative ones. In fact, the contrast between positive and negative comments leads the reader to wonder if the students were in the same classroom. In regard to confidence in one course students complained that many essays were cancelled. Across the board there were comments about lack of clarity in assignments and vague feedback. Some students commented that the activities were repetitive with other courses. In regard to skill, some students commented that they had always done well in writing except this course. Some said that they didn t write much, and some reported deterioration in their writing. In general, these students wrote fewer comments on their surveys than those who were more positive about the course.

10 One especially disaffected student wrote to both questions in this way 31. I feel like the papers written for this class helped me understand the course content, but did not help me as a writer. Our papers were mainly graded on content, not as an overall piece of writing. 32. I do not feel that this course/professor helped my writing skills at all Another student wrote 31. They made me feel like a poor writer with no real explanation as to why. 32. This is the only class where my writing has ever been a problem. My perceptions have not changed about my abilities. In the same course, a more positive student wrote 31. Forced me to do the reading in a more indepth manner 32. It has been a while since I have had to write essays, so writing these essays and getting feedback helped me improve. The comments from high and low scoring courses demonstrate the importance of providing students with a good understanding of the pedagogy of the course, providing structure for students to understand the assignments and expectations in them, and providing clear feedback to the students. It appears that the extent to which faculty can communicate their teaching goals and expectations reflects on the capacity of students to learn. The mixed responses of students in low scoring courses seems to indicate that some students can make these connections themselves or are more attentive to the communication of the faculty member teaching the course. There is no way that we can understand the processes involved within a classroom from a survey such as this, however, the pattern from low scoring group suggest the importance of the communication process and learning environment on student perceptions. Preliminary Conclusions The purpose of this survey was to gain an understanding of the perceptions of students in regard to writing and writing intensive courses at UNH. In general, the findings demonstrate that students value writing and see its connection to their professional development. It provides baseline data to understand the first years of development of WI program and the impact they have had on students. Future work should involve a more in-depth study of specific courses, instructional practices, and student work. Without understanding the faculty experience, classroom climate, and student work, we do not have a full understanding of the development of WAC at UNH.

11 Recommendations 1. Because future surveys of this type will not be conducted each semester, faculty members should consider adding some of the questions from this survey to the University-wide instructor evaluation surveys conducted at the end of each semester. In particular questions 10 through 15 provide interesting feedback about student attitudes toward writing and questions 23 to 30 provide interesting feedback about the WI processes used in the particular course being surveyed. The two narrative questions can also provide important feedback to faculty members as they assess the effectiveness of their writing intensive teaching strategies and plan for the future. 2. This version of the survey should be reviewed relative to the value of the questions. Questions 20 and 21 are central to understanding what kinds of writing actually occurs in WI courses. They must be revised to eliminate confusion.

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