Adonis Diaries

What undergraduate students care about university courses?

Posted on: November 2, 2008

Article #23, (April 24, 2005)

“What undergraduate students care about university courses?”

In the mid of the spring semester I had finished writing 20 articles that covered most of the topics of the Human Factors in engineering course.

I had more than once asked the following questions in exams: “How would you like to define Human Factors regardless of the various textbooks definitions and how your perception of this discipline could enhance your career?”

Invariably, the undergraduates preferred to rely on textbooks definitions instead of providing me with any meaningful feedback as to how my message was conveyed.

I decided to generate statistical responses through a simple questionnaire.

The experiment was to discover their preferred topics from the titles of the articles and then, when all the articles have been read to class, to acquire their new responses as to their personal interest in the topics.

I then went ahead and submitted to class the 20 titles and asked them to select only three titles they would be interested to read more about and to grade them according to preference such as first, second and third choice.

Before analyzing the gathered data I found it useful to group the current 20 titles according to meaningful dimensions or components which could be reduced to four dimensions; first dimension related to career orientation or job market availability for Human Factors practitioners might be represented by articles (1, 5, 6 and 19), dimension 2 of design improvement for engineers represented by articles (3, 8, 9 and 20), dimension 3 related to safety in workplaces represented by articles (4, 10, 15 and 16) and dimension 4 difficulty of the course or related to difficulty of passing the course represented by articles (2, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17 and 18).

After collecting their responses I distributed the articles according to their choices with the following assignment; every student had to recopy the assigned article, reedit it according to his understanding using the words that might suit better his writing skill and style and then to read his version to class.

This experiment was intended to encourage the class to focus on the topics that they are more willing to assimilate and apply in their careers.

Seventeen students submitted their response sheets in class.

A preliminary analysis of the preferred choices generated the following statistics:

Title #19 generated the highest number of 7 responses among the choices; titles #5, 6 and 10 came next with 5 responses, and third in place titles #1, 3 and 4 with 4 responses.

Titles #12, 13 and 14 that concerned error and task taxonomies and methods did not generate any responses although my conjecture is that these esoteric nomenclatures might have generated at least many third preference choices.

Titles #4, 5 and 10 had the highest number of first choice which was 3 responses.

It appears that the majority of undergraduates are interested in career orientation or more precisely they need confirmation that they selected the appropriate major and would like to know how this course can help them secure a job or make a dent in their career behavior with a total of 21 choices.

The safety dimension came second with 16 choices and if we assume that safety engineering was implicitly considered a career alternative then a total of 37 out of a grand total of 51 choices was clustered around anxiety toward their careers.

Furthermore, if the design improvement dimension with 14 choices could be viewed as an affirmation of their career selection then everyone was concerned one way or another with his future job prospect.

.Once all the articles have been read I intend to redistribute the titles of the 20 articles and find out if there is any significant change in the responses based on contents.

I provided the class a feedback to the statistics and my own interpretations and did not receive any negative comments.

Thus, for my final take home exam I inserted questions related to their career. 

One question was for them to take stock of their knowledge and training capabilities and limitations as engineers based on 3 job descriptions, then to investigate their deficiencies when they select a graduate major from the catalogue of required courses and then what courses or workshops they would attend in order to strengthen their promotional opportunities.

For their final exam I hinted that a question will deal with how they would teach this course from two perspectives: the first perspective is targeting the diligent students of grades A and B and the second method when targeting the C and D students. 

They were told to be ready to restructure the course materials given that it will be the unique course offered as Human Factors.

I expect from this exam question to receive valuable feedback as to my teaching method and which topics are of interest to the students.

I also expect that the students will start evaluating their potential in a teaching career.

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November 2008

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