2009 Focus Group - Societies and Institutions
The focus group leader, Jane Reid, noted that this group was larger than optimal. Some participants did not speak; another focus group would be advisable, using this one to guide more targeted questions.
Some questions from the original questionnaire weren't used because the responses were integrated in earlier discussion. Below are the specific questions they answered and brief summary of the original report.
General Impressions of General-Education Requirements (GER)
What are the benefits of general-education requirements in preparing YSU students to be productive and responsible citizens?
Students would take only courses in their majors if they weren't required to take GERs. By taking general-education courses, they broaden their knowledge and experience bases and challenge them to think differently. GERs also allow students to experiment with possible majors and to learn about more than their future profession. They learn to think creatively.
What are the challenges of the GER in preparing YSU students to be productive and responsible citizens?
Student buy-in is the biggest problem. Students are not interested in this material, nor do they want to spend the time necessary to do well. Compliance is a problem: Deans exempt graduating seniors, so the requirements mean little. Various levels of abilities, backgrounds, and interest make it hard to teach the courses, too.
One SI faculty member wondered whether it really helps students to take individual courses in several different departments; students get no depth; others noted that breadth is the goal and depth can come from students' majors and minors.
The dependence on part-time faculty in GER courses was noted as a problem area. Some wondered about the quality of education; others defended part-time faculty as some of the best on campus.
There are too many upper-division students in GER courses. This group disliked that departments can specify which GER courses their students must take.
Specific Questions about Societies and Institutions Courses
YSU students should demonstrate an understanding of the organization of and theories behind legal, governmental, and social systems as well as economic markets. How well do you think the courses that you teach help students to do so?
Courses that are not inherently interdisciplinary do not fit this goal well. This group questioned whether the goal is achievable at all or whether it's even worth trying to achieve. They pointed to the original fights over the "new" GER in the mid-1990s. They felt that the wording of the goal has "nothing to do with" their fields, nor does it reflect what happens in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. They pointed out that diversity, which is a pivotal part of the University's mission, is an ancillary goal and needs to be more central.
Another goal for the societies and institutions domain is for students to understand the development of cultures and organizations of human societies throughout the world and their changing interrelationships with Western Society. How well do you think the courses that you teach help students to do so?
This goal seems to fit with their courses far better than the other. They worried that students knew little about SI courses before they enrolled; students take whatever fits their schedules, not what might most interest or help them.
Another goal for the societies and institutions domain is for students to understand the diversity in American in all its forms. How well do you think the courses that you teach help students to do so?
They cover diversity in all of their courses.
The GER committee realizes that a course-by-course assessment of learning for courses identified as societies and institutions is not providing them with the kind of information that they need to assess learning.
Everyone said that assessment is problematic. Multi-section courses taught by many different faculty members are taught differently; although attempts have been made to embed standard questions in tests, it hasn't worked. They wondered whether the new GER system is better than the old one; one suggested that seven individual courses be designed to manage the domains (every student would take every one). They worried about the increasing size of GER courses.
They questioned why YSU has thirteen goals rather than four or five. The current system of assessment feels like busy work, not relevant or useful. They discussed e-portfolios as an alternate method of assessment (or alternate tool); they worried that these would take time to assess properly. Several were concerned about students loading photos.
This group did not think an orientation course would be useful.
Are there any general comments that you would like to share?
Assessment in its current form is not useful. They included faculty evaluation in this general comment. They worried that well-done assessment would require considerably more resources than we have.
They said that assessment is not a priority at YSU; it's important to instruct students well. They suggested some sort of assessment at the beginning and end of students' careers at YSU.