TCR Grad Blog

Graduate director's blog for the Technical Communication and Rhetoric Program at Texas Tech University

Archive for August, 2011

Curriculum Survey Results, Fall 2011

Posted by Joyce on August 28, 2011

As has been my custom for the past 5 or 6 years, I have surveyed the graduate student body to ask about classes (their value and ideal frequency), meeting times, the culture of the program, and general demographics, all of which I use to schedule events, tweak our offerings, and attempt to address deficiencies of the program. Here are the results:

Survey Results: On-Campus Graduate Students, 2011 (N=8)

Survey Results: Online Graduate Students, 2011 (N=24)

I have studied the results and offer the following observations.

First, while I don’t include it here, I have examined the results by degree program, as well as modality, so as to see if there are material differences in PhD and MATC. There are, as you can imagine, but the list of “to do” items reveals itself in your answers to open questions. Thus a) I don’t think it’s worth having a formal report that distinguishes among the populations and b) since the MATC N is rather small, I think it’s better for anonymity to have those results folded into the larger questions.

Second, and this has come up in various ways over the past 5 years, while there is a modality difference in the online programs and the f2f programs, that difference in no way corresponds to one being more valuable than the other. This assertion/fear/hunch is simply not true, as I believe is demonstrable in our plans and actions since the inception of the online programs 8 (PhD) and 12 (MATC) years ago. Recruiting, applications, and admissions are variable across all four programs, and naturally if you look at one year, you may be tempted to assign meaning to the fact that X students versus Y students got admitted or graduated or got a job. But if you take a longer view of our program’s trends, I simply don’t think you will see any favoritism among programs or any significant differences in quality trends between programs. The only trend that matters is to increase quality, and I think we can demonstrate steady progress in this mission over the past 5-10 years.

Third, although the numbers of negative feedback are small, I certainly recognize a need to keep trying to improve our programmatic communications with you. Someone rightly says that they get a welcome letter and a link to our official website, but that specific advise is in short supply. One often has to get information from other students, and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for culture and knowledge, it also frustrates many of you. I’m going to do my best to make dates, procedures, and specific steps more available to you, and I thank you for your honest feedback.

Fourth, I always study the class-offerings questions very carefully each year as I plan the next block of courses. I’m in the midst of recommending classes for Summer 12, Fall 12, and Spring 13, and these data are really important to me in this endeavor. There’s always tension around the frequency of required courses, and I always make sure that foundational and methods courses appear in the rotation every year. As for electives, your feedback has a very large impact on my decisions, and you can rest assured that the courses you really, really want will show up in the next block.

Fifth, some online students really do not like the MOO, but year in and year out, the MOO has received very high marks, probably because it’s easy, it’s text, and it’s used heavily. A key concept for you is also the cost of tools, as we have to pay for software and hardware out of course fees if we want to upgrade. The MOO’s cost has been virtually free for years, as has WebBoard, but cheapness isn’t the only reason to keep a tool.  We could upgrade to any number of tools, and we evaluate them all the time — but the ones that involve the most money always give us pause because we are sensitive to how much you pay in fees and tuition. In any event, know that this topic is constantly revisited by the faculty, and while it’s unlikely we’ll adopt a uniform platform, it is very likely we’ll adopt (and support in-house) a couple of new tools this year or next.

Sixth, I probably fixate too much on your negative feedback, but I really do study the final two questions of the survey every year very carefully. I’m very keen to learn about your perspectives on what we’re doing poorly and what your ideas are regarding priorities going forward. Many of you dislike our online presence, and while it’s not fair to blame tools, I blame our CMS, which the department adopted 4 years ago, and which is quite uncreative. I think we’ll move away from that this year, and we’ll also try to move a lot of program information into more accessible places.

Seventh, many of you are concerned about the size of the program, the faculty-to-student ratio, and the availability of your faculty, all of which are related. This year, for the first time in quite a while, the overall size of the combined programs decreases as we admit fewer students and graduate more, and I think this seems like a reasonable level to sustain or shrink slightly. I don’t know if holding the line at this level will address your concerns about size, but I think it’s unlikely we will shrink the program any more than 10-15% percent from current levels. It is also unlikely that we will be in a position to hire any new faculty, so we are going to have to address questions of communication, access, and general culture by adjusting our practices.

A final thought about communication and knowledge silos. I get this every year, and I try to address the issue in different ways each year, but complaints about program communication always interest me. On the one hand, of course the program should have better communication. We’re communicators and we have the tools and know-how to operate at a high and useful level for you. And I’ll keep trying to improve. On the other hand, I am not sure how smart it is to shift information into a centralized location when all the literature on knowledge and speed of information tells us that what makes social networking (and decentralized information exchange in general) powerful is that it doesn’t rely on one person or one centralized process. One of you writes that you had to learn about what to do from other students as if it’s a bad thing—from a theoretical perspective, I think it’s probably the case that information about the university, the professors, and the general know-how of being a graduate student ought to be faster and more accurate if it is generated not only from me and my fingertips, but also from you as you scour the university bureaucracy to answers and solutions related to getting your degree. In fact, you comprise a much, much larger research force than I do, especially when it comes to dealing with the university, and I would encourage you to help yourselves as much as possible, rather than looking to me to produce an org-chart and a how-to sheet on how to navigate the treacherous waters of the university. If you learn something valuable in dealing with a certain office (like Financial Aid or the Registrar) for example, please don’t sit on that knowledge, but push it to your classmates using the listserv, the facebook page, our twitter hashtag, or any number of other fast means. Similarly, when I learn the answer to a question that one of you asks me, I don’t reply to you directly, but instead push the answer to the listserv, the facebook page, this blog, and so on. I know it’s sloppy, but I honestly believe it’s the best way to deal with the complexity of our current situation.

Which is not to say I’m giving up on my responsibility for being one of those sources of information for you. On the contrary, I will continue trying to add value to the communication spectrum by sharing my thoughts, our program policies, and various announcements—the things that I know more directly and what I can learn more efficiently.

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