2009 Focus Group - Writing
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.
Below Composition I is referred to as 1550; Composition 2 is 1551. None of the intensive courses are included in this focus group.
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?
The faculty immediately focused on the importance of writing to any career and discipline. They also agreed that having a foundation in math and science is also important. Knowing about their government and public engagement are also important to being an educated person. Critical thinking and inquiry will also help students. The faculty noted that students are so concerned with getting a job that they pay little attention to anything they see as ancillary. At eighteen-years-old, most freshmen do not really know what they'll need when they're professionals; writing and critical thinking will be central to their success.
The GERs provide a broad education, too, a "smorgasbord" of experiences, that challenge students' preconceptions.
What are the challenges of the GER in preparing YSU students to be productive and responsible citizens?
Students resist taking and working hard in GER courses. That YSU is primarily a commuter campus with students who often work full-time makes the problem worse. Too many students don't attend class or do the work.
The varying skill and preparation levels of the students makes teaching these classes very difficult. In high school, according to this focus group, students learn by rote, not using critical thinking; YSU courses require independent thought. Nontraditional students present a challenge because of their being "rusty" academically and because they are particularly impatient with courses that they see as unnecessary to their future professions.
Traditional students lack maturity and feel a sense of entitlement.
The low pay for part-time faculty is also a problem. Freshman composition is primarily taught by part-time faculty and graduate students; both groups have a high turn-over. Continuity in the courses is impaired.
Some students are delaying taking composition until very late in their time at YSU, when it is seen as purely an obstacle.
Specific Questions about Writing Courses
YSU students should demonstrate an ability to write effectively. How well do you think the courses that you teach help students to do so?
The faculty do a good job, but students have to do their part, too. Writing needs to be integrated into students' entire curriculum so skills are reinforced and improved. They commented that students' poor reading skills add to the problem; if they can't read well and critically, they can't progress as writers.
Faculty are not evaluated regularly (part-time faculty are evaluated with the standard student survey, but there is little feedback or support). Nor are part-time faculty given an orientation to the program or University.
Consistency in the courses is a problem, particularly with 1550. They have heard complaints from all over campus; one mentioned that one department said that they'll undo the erroneous instruction students have received from 1551 in their own course. There is no consistency between sections. They tried to create a manual, but nothing came of the effort. Mentoring might be good for new part-time faculty.
They thought that sections of each course should include consistent requirements, such as the same number of papers and revision. They wondered why 1551 did not have stronger, clearer outcomes.
Teaching critical thinking seems to be essential, but it's hard to teach that as well as writing skills. They are interconnected, certainly, but students resist. They questioned whether it's possible to teach students in one semester what they should have learned over twelve years of education.
Grading is also an issue; students receive grades for effort, not for quality of their work. Those who teach 1551 (composition 2) mentioned that many of their students are not prepared for 1551.
The GER committee realizes that a that the current general-education assessment of writing courses is not providing them with the kind of information that they need to assess learning.
They suggested a exit exam, although they recognized that the full-time faculty might resist. Perhaps a portfolio system would work, even across the entire GER program (throughout a student's career at YSU).
They discussed the possibility of linking courses and using themes to add a sense of consistency.
Are there any general comments that you would like to share?
They want to be paid more. This group thinks that the composition courses need to do a better job; they don't do what they're supposed to do because of consistency issues and because students come in with such widely varying skills and capabilities. They suggested at composition should be a year-long course with the same professor.
They thought that an orientation class that focused on critical-thinking and practical skills would be useful. How to use the library, for instance, might be managed there. They thought that classroom etiquette and academic computing (Word, Power Point) should be included.
They questioned whether the General-Education Committee knows what's happening in freshman composition. The faculty feel as if no one listens to them. The GEC should set goals for the classes.