Meeting learning goals with a below average course

Jeff Johnson (presented as a session at the workshop)

During the fall 2006 semester I taught a first year writing seminar entitled "The World's Oceans in the Global Environment," a course designed to introduce students to important topics in marine science in the context of Earth systems science, as well as key issues in ocean policy (e.g., fisheries, implementation of marine protected areas, etc.). As a writing seminar, most student work during the semester was in the form of writing assignments.

Information from a variety of sources (performance on assignments and the final exam, comments written on the last day of class, and feedback provided by the college-administered course evaluation and the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) survey at the end of the semester) indicates that students made significant gains in their understanding of Earth system science, particularly the workings of the marine environment. They are also much more aware of the current threats to the world's oceans and understand some of the implications of these threats to human society. Information from the above sources also indicates that the writing and information literacy goals of the course were largely met.

Despite these successes of the course, overall the students rated the course below average and rated my effectiveness as an instructor in communicating with the class and in stimulating their interest in the material below average (< 3 on a scale of 1-5). I knew going into the semester that motivating students to prepare for class and then to engage them in meaningful discussion would be a challenge, and indeed that was my biggest frustration with the course. Results from the course and SALG evaluations show that it was the students' biggest frustration as well. I am very interested and enthusiastic about the course topic and so I'm disappointed that a number of students were bored by me and the course. It is clear to me that my inability to engage students in the affective domain played an important part in the low student satisfaction.

I hope to teach the course again next year and I need to figure out how to significantly increase student satisfaction with the course. I see paying greater attention to the affective domain as a critical piece in improving this course.


These responses were generated at the workshop by small groups of participants.

Connect writing to science as a product or expression of human culture
Matt Nyman, Claudia Khourey-Bowers, and Pat Hauslein

Through the eyes of the students
Alan Boyle, Dorothea Ivanova, Kathie Owens, Kelly Rocca, and Jennifer Stempien

Reassess evaluations and expectations
Mimi Fuhrman, Al Werner, Tania Vislova, and Dexter Perkins

Facilitating Student Engagement
Tom Kobella, LeeAnn Srogi, Lensyl Urbano, and Martina Nieswandt

Meeting learning goals with a below average course  

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