Yale seeks feedback on ’03 curricular changes

Three years after Yale College implemented new curricular requirements, administrators are probing students about their academic experiences to assess the impact of those changes.

The University’s Office of Institutional Research — along with the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Writing Center, the Center for Language Study and other parts of the University — has begun collecting data through four surveys and work submitted by students in order to gauge students’ experiences and progress in writing, foreign language and quantitative reasoning.

While the OIR has already sent out one survey concerning writing resources and requirements and the Writing Center has begun to sift through the results, several others concerning foreign language learning and students’ international experiences and quantitative reasoning skills are still in development and will be released in late April or early May, OIR director Rebecca Friedkin said.

In addition to the annual senior survey, approximately 160 seniors have been asked to submit work from their time at Yale and reflect on what they have learned, Friedkin said.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said the OIR is conducting the surveys in part to learn about student experiences under the new College curriculum, adopted after a 2003 report by the Committee on Yale College Education.

“[We want] to look at ways in which the core changes adapted after the CYCE report affect students’ experiences here,” Salovey said. “We’re asking students to reflect on the educational experience they’ve had, to self-assess their own competencies.”

The OIR inquiries will be the most extensive ever posed to students, said Judith Hackman, director of the Teaching Fellow Program at the Graduate School. This year’s seniors are the last class to be evaluated under the old curricular requirements.

Salovey said University administrators are also gearing up for an upcoming re-accreditation process by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which happens once every decade. The formal process will happen in two years, but having data from the OIR reports could make it easier for administrators to make their case to NEASC, he said.

The OIR, which compiles data and statistics on Yale, received requests from administrators across the University to help administer surveys, Friedkin said.

Alfred Guy, who heads the Writing Center, said he wanted to send out the surveys this year in order to capture the opinions of both this year’s seniors — who have a more relaxed writing requirement — and the rest of Yale College students. Comparing the differences in attitudes toward writing in each class will help the Writing Center evaluate the impact of the new curriculum, Guy said.

The Writing Center partnered with OIR to release two queries to students. One was a survey sent to a sample of 300 students in each class, consisting of 21 mostly multiple-choice questions asking student opinions on their writing experiences at Yale.

The second query requested a portfolio of all written work at Yale from a much smaller sample size of juniors and seniors. Guy said the Center received 60 portfolios that he and Assistant Director Suzanne Young have already begun reading and analyzing.

Guy said he expects the surveys will find that students want more writing classes outside the traditional departments of English and history, and that the results might come in handy when he asks faculty to teach courses that will count toward the writing requirement.

After the survey, Guy said, he can tell professors “‘We really want to help you respond to this student demand, and what can we do to make it easier for you.’”

It is difficult to develop a survey that quantifies a qualitative skill like writing, Guy said. Through extensive revisions with Friedkin and OIR Research Associate Cynthia Langin, Writing Center administrators made the questions as neutral as possible, he said. But challenges remained.

“If you did the very best possible survey, then what you can feel confident [you’ve found] is what students think they have experienced, which is not the same as what they’ve experienced,” Guy said. “There’s been a great deal of concern.”

OIR is also working with the International Education and Fellowship Programs and the Center for Language Study to evaluate students’ attitudes toward working and studying abroad and learning foreign languages.

IEFP director Jane Edwards said administrators will review the resulting data as soon as OIR completes its analysis, which Friedkin said would take place mostly during the summer.

“We are very interested in understanding better the range of international experiences of our students, and also in understanding the factors that may prevent some of our students from pursuing these activities,” Edwards wrote in an e-mail.

OIR has not yet decided whether that survey will be sent to all students or only to seniors, but it will probably be sent out in late April or early May, Friedkin said. She said the survey was motivated by the current dearth of both specific and general data on Yale students’ experiences in other countries.

“We’re trying to capture the diversity of international experiences across all classes,” Friedkin said. “We don’t know how many are not arranged through Yale. We can’t even say what percentage of Yale students undertake an international experience.”

OIR is also working with the University’s Quantitative Reasoning Council, which certifies courses that meet the quantitative reasoning requirement, to develop a survey that will ask a select sample of seniors to self-assess their QR skills. That survey, Friedkin said, could go out as early as next week.

Langin said a self-assessment — rather than a standardized test — was the best way to approximate math skills because since the requirement at Yale can be fulfilled in so many different ways, students have a wide range of skill levels in math.

“We couldn’t find an instrument that was appropriate,” Friedkin said.

In an effort to “space things out,” Salovey said, the administration will hold off on asking students about science resources at Yale in this cycle of surveys and will wait for future years.

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