Admins solicit students’ opinions, senior projects

Forget donations or class pranks — Yale is offering seniors a different kind of opportunity to leave their mark.

Three separate initiatives are underway to collect opinions and written work from members of the class of 2010, said Becky Friedkin, a senior researcher at the Office of Institutional Research. The projects — which include a survey launched Thursday afternoon, the collection of every senior project completed by the class of 2010 and the Writing Center’s effort to collect 50 to 60 senior year-only writing portfolios — will produce data for this fall’s review of the academic policy changes made in 2005 on the recommendation of the Committee on Yale College Education. The class of 2010 will be only the second to graduate under the new distributional requirements, which were among the 2005 changes.

Friedkin said her office is overseeing the survey, which is being circulated within a consortium of Yale’s peer institutions. The survey includes questions about students’ college experience, she said, and also asks students to self-assess their learning in areas directly affected by the CYCE, such as quantitative reasoning and foreign language study.

“This is a great opportunity for students to reflect on their time at Yale and provide feedback to the administration,” Friedkin said.

The senior essay project may not play as great a role as others in this fall’s CYCE review, said Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker, considering that the CYCE did not recommend any changes to senior project requirements. Still, new distributional requirements may have indirectly changed the way students think about and complete the senior project, he said.

“Even if no CYCE report were being undertaken, there is still great benefit in informing ourselves about the work our students do, especially the kind of capstone achievement that is represented by the senior essay,” said Schenker, who is overseeing the project.

Schenker said he has assured faculty that the Dean’s Office does not intend to evaluate the projects, which is the duty of academic departments and programs. The Dean’s Office will not be searching for specific trends as it reviews students’ work either, he said, adding that he is interested to see how cultural and historical events like the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti in January or the rise of YouTube may present themselves in senior essays.

But above all, administrators are curious about how students approach the senior essay.

“I can’t wait to read them — all 1,300 of them!” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said.

The effort to collect every senior’s final project began with residential college masters and directors of undergraduate studies, Schenker said. Miller said Monday that her office had asked these faculty to approach their students about submitting their work beginning this week. OIR is also providing logistical and technical support to the Dean’s Office for the senior essay collection project, Friedkin said, helping to organize Classes server project sites for each residential college where students can submit their work.

Though the Writing Center is requesting senior writing portfolios in conjunction with Schenker’s project, the Center has more concrete goals than the Dean’s Office, said Writing Center director Alfred Guy. This summer, the Center will analyze portfolios of writing produced in the senior year by students from the classes of 2008 and 2010 with the goal of “creating a portrait of what Yale writers can do as seniors,” Guy said. It will complement an earlier Writing Center study of work completed by the class of 2009 in the freshman through junior years, he added. (The Writing Center did not collect senior-year writing from the class of 2009. OIR collected portfolios from the class of 2008, but they have not been reviewed since students submitted them.)

The Writing Center’s portfolio review may yield some comparative data, Guy said, since the class of 2010 has had to take two writing courses under the new distributional requirement recommended by the CYCE, while the class of 2008 was not required to take any writing courses. Before the distributional requirement was changed, 10 to 15 percent of students did not take writing classes, he said, adding that the Writing Center will “look for direct evidence that it’s made a difference” to the quality of students’ writing.

Above all, Guy said, the Writing Center hopes to use the study to find ways to better serve its patrons and learn more about what works in writing education at Yale.

“We’re more interested in defining good outcomes for writing across a Yale College education,” Guy said.

The CYCE convened in 2001 under the leadership of then-Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead to analyze academic life in Yale College. The committee released a report containing its recommendations and areas for possible improvement in 2003.

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