Jan 21, 2020

Study: Seniors not academically challenged

When it comes to the demands of any course at Fresno State, students and teachers have a very different perception of reality, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by the Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning (IRAP) department found that 74 percent of teachers think they ask their students to go beyond only memorization, to consider material in-depth and apply theories to their everyday lives.

However, only 33 percent of students feel that they need to do this in their classes.

The survey itself, which focused on seniors, compared the opinions of Fresno State students to students from over 140 similar schools across the country. Results were released in late February.

In addition, it showed that students were more likely to come to class unprepared than their peers at other schools, and that they felt that they did not have to work as hard to meet a teacher’s expectations as their peers.

This result caught the attention of Jeronima Echeverria, Ph. D., the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“What I saw in the raw data was that our seniors claim they are not academically challenged,” Echeverria said.

One issue with the survey is that “academic challenge” is an inherently fuzzy concept.

“What exactly does that mean?” Echeverria said. “It’s very difficult to assess the rigor of an academic program.”

So far, Echeverria said that jumping to make any major policy changes based on one survey would be “premature.” She and Tina Leimer, the director of IRAP, plan on looking through previous surveys to see if this is a trend or an anomaly. Echeverria will also be talking to the chairs of the departments about the survey and gathering their opinions.

However, that does not mean that Fresno State is not addressing the issue.

Dennis L. Nef, Ph. D., the associate vice president and dean of Undergraduate Studies, said that the bottom line is that students don’t feel that they are being challenged.

“If they aren’t being challenged, their needs aren’t being met,” Nef said.

There are several ways in which administration and faculty can work to address the problem.

Nef said that the main issue in ensuring students are challenged is finding out what the students already know. He said that students walk into classes with different levels of knowledge about a subject, and a major challenge of teaching is adapting the curriculum to reflect that.

Ethan J. Kytle, Ph. D., an assistant professor in history, has learned this challenge first hand. This is his first year at Fresno State. One of his classes is history 11, which focuses on American history up to the Civil War.

When Kytle started teaching at Fresno State, he noticed a large gap in students’ knowledge about East Coast geography. Kytle, who used to live on the East Coast, found himself changing part of his course to make up for the gap. He said he struggled with figuring out how much time to spend on the geography, since it was necessary for understanding part of the course, but it also took away time from the historical subject matter that was the focus of the class.

“But if my students don’t know it, then I need to teach it,” Kytle said.

Nef said that the other thing Fresno State is doing is working to place more of an emphasis on hands-on style experience. The Center for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning on campus, which provides a variety of support services to faculty, is currently focusing on this issue.

The center hosted a pair of workshops in March that detailed how faculty can encourage student involvement in the classroom.

“It gets students into real world experience,” Nef said. “It gets them away from the memorization.”

Previous Story

Testing center provides new exam choices

Next Story

What’s that smell?