2012 UW-La Crosse Student Writing Survey

Executive Summary

BACKGROUND

Results from NSSE 2011 indicate that UW-L seniors report that their experience at UW-L contributed to their ability to write clearly and effectively to a greater degree than students in all other comparison groups (UW Comprehensives, Carnegie Peers, and NSSE Participating Institutions). Although these results are encouraging, more information is needed about how students perceive the impact of their writing experiences at UW-L, what kinds of writing experiences they have most frequently in a given year, how they feel they have improved during their time at UW-L, and how they typically approach writing tasks. To provide a richer picture of students' writing experiences, we developed and administered the 2012 UW-La Crosse Student Writing Survey.

GOALS

Our goals were to
  • Assess UW-L students' perceptions of writing experiences, improvements in writing, and writing practices
  • Develop an institution-wide picture of student writing
  • Gather data that may inform direct and indirect assessments of writing courses, Writing Emphasis (WE) courses, Writing-in-the-Major (WM) programs
  • Generate conversations about writing among faculty and staff

SURVEY STRUCTURE

Printable Version of Survey | Online Version

The survey instrument was divided into five blocks:
  1. Demographic Information. This section gathered information about student class level, undergraduate major (primary, secondary), English 110/112 enrollment, and number of writing emphasis courses.
  2. Writing Experiences. This 27-question block was developed though a partnership between the national Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA) and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) for use by institutions participating in the Consortium for the Study of Writing in College. More information about these items may be found here
  3. Writing Improvement. This 40-item block asked students to estimate the amount of improvement they have made in different skill areas during their time at UW-L.
  4. Writing Practices. This 24-item block asked students to indicate how typical various writing practices were for them as writers, ranging from very typical to not at all typical.
  5. Open-Ended. Students were asked to comment on their most representative piece of writing during their time at UW-L and were invited to include other comments about their writing experiences.

IMPLEMENTATION AND RESPONSE

After obtaining IRB approval in April 2012 and a distribution list from Institutional Research, email invitations were sent to 7,825 full-time, undergraduate students. Responses were collected from April-June 2012. A total of 1271 complete responses were received (16%). Students in WM programs totaled 758 (64%) while those in non-WM Programs totaled 420 (36%). Below is the breakdown of respondents based on course level:
  • Freshman: 339 (26.7%)
  • Sophomore: 284 (22.3%)
  • Junior: 271 (21.3%)
  • Senior: 377 (29.7%)

ANALYSIS

A review of overall results examined average scores and frequency of response for each item. Possible differences across classification levels was analyzed using ANOVA and post-hoc t-tests. Additional analyses of possible differences between juniors and seniors in WM and Non-WM majors was conducted using t-tests.

KEY FINDINGS

What kinds of writing experiences do students have most frequently in a given year? 

Students across all levels reported having these experiences most frequently for most/all of their assignments: proofreading their final drafts (88%), analyzing something they have read (61%), brainstorming to develop ideas (56%), summarizing something they have read (49%), writing in the style of a specific field (40%). Students reported their instructors did this for most/all assignments: provided clear instructions (79%); explained criteria for grading (73%), explained in advance what he or she wanted you to learn (58%), asked them to write with classmates (18%); asked for short pieces of ungraded writing (14%). Below is a breakdown of first-year vs. senior level experiences:

  • First-Year Experiences. First-year students reported more frequent experiences in these areas: brainstorming to develop ideas; talking with their instructor to develop ideas, talking with a classmate to develop ideas (over seniors only), receiving feedback from their instructor on a draft, receiving feedback from a classmate or friend, visiting the writing center, using an online tutoring service (over seniors only), proofreading their final draft for errors, arguing a position using evidence (over sophomores and juniors only).
  • Senior Experiences. Seniors reported more frequent experiences in these areas as compared to first-year students: summarizing something they have read, explaining in writing the meaning of numerical data, writing in the style of a specific field; including drawings, tables, or visual content, and creating a project with multimedia.

KEY FINDINGS, CONTINUED

How do students feel they have improved during their time at UW-L? 

Students in general reported improvement in each skill area. On average 74% of students reported some or a lot of improvement across all skill areas. Sorted by overall means for all students, here are some more specific findings:
  • A Lot of - Some Improvement: Incorporating sources into their writing (3.21), citing or referencing sources in a bibliography (3.21), focusing ideas in their writing (3.16), analyzing or evaluating something they have read, researched, or observed (3.15), organizing ideas in their writing (3.12), developing ideas in their writing (3.12), writing with sense of purpose (3.1), summarizing something they have read, researched or observed (3.08), and being clear and concise in their writing (3.05)
  • Some - Very Little Improvement: Narrating or describing one of your own experiences (2.74), writing informally to figure out ideas (2.72), explaining in writing the meaning of numerical or stat data (2.72), creating a project with multimedia (2.71), allowing enough time to work through the composing process (2.68), and including drawings, tables, photos, or visual content (2.64).

First-year students reported more improvement than any other group in "using feedback from peers to make revisions" and "giving feedback on writing to peers." Seniors reported more improvement than any other group in numerous areas, including the following:

  • Incorporating sources into their writing
  • Citing or referencing sources in a bibliography
  • Analyzing or evaluating something they have read, researched, or observed
  • Summarizing something they have read, researched, observed
  • Synthesizing information from multiple sources
  • Proofreading for grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • Writing in the style and format of a specific discipline
  • Describing their methods or findings related to data they collected
  • Explaining in writing the meaning of numerical or statistical data
  • Creating a project with multimedia
  • Including drawings, tables, photos, or visual content

How do students typically approach writing tasks?

  • Lower-Division Practices. First-year (and sophomore) students reported the following items as more typical of their writing process than other groups: I include a thesis statement in the opening paragraph of each paper I write (Fy > So, Sr; So > Jr, Sr); I write using an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion (Fy > Jr, Sr ; So > Jr, Sr); I assume my readers are unfamiliar with the subjects I am writing about (Fy > Sr ; So > Sr); I use feedback from others to improve my own writing (Fy > So,Jr, Sr).
  • Upper Division Practices. Seniors reported the following items as more typical of their writing process than other groups: I refer to assignment guidelines when I am writing (Sr > Fy); It is easy for me to be detailed while I write (Sr, Jr > Fy).
  • Most Typical Practices for All Students: I refer assignment guidelines when I am writing (62% very typical), It is easy for me to be detailed while I write (37%) I include a thesis statement in the opening paragraph of each paper I write (33%), I have my own writing style (32%), I analyze and evaluate my own writing (31%) 
  • Least Typical Practices for All Students: I have difficulty writing even when I understand the subject (49% not all typical), I write the same no matter who the reader is (40%), As I write, my ideas about the subject change (28%), I write the same way I speak (26%), When I write in school, I think about a reader other than my teacher (21%), I write in order to think through ideas (20%), I write using an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion (19%)

Writing-in-the-Major Analysis

The following significant differences were revealed between upper division students who were enrolled in Writing-in-the-Major (WM) programs versus those who were not.

Instructor Practices Item

Overall

WM

Non-WM

Sig.

Argue a position using evidence

3

2.80

3.19

Non-WM

Write in the style of a specific field

3.05

3.39

3.04

WM

Explained criteria for grading

3.91

3.93

3.72

WM

Provided sample completed assignment

2.77

2.70

2.47

WM


Writing Practices Item

Overall

WM

Non-WM

Sig.

Practicing different types of writing

2.96

3.07

2.89

WM

Being clear and concise in your writing

3.05

3.19

3.05

WM

Citing or referencing sources in a bibliography

3.21

3.34

3.19

WM

Allowing enough time to work through the composing process

2.68

2.70

2.54

WM

Using UW-L Library resources such as books, ref materials, etc.

2.87

3.06

2.84

WM

Writing in the style and format of a specific discipline

2.92

3.19

2.94

WM


NEXT STEPS

For items and programs for which there is enough data, we intend to analyze student responses by college or program. For writing experiences items, we are interested in comparing UW-L results with WPA-NSSE data sets. Additional future indirect assessments--by level, discipline/major, and college--could provide a higher level of resolution on student writing experiences, writing improvement, and writing practices. Toward this end, a modified version of this survey will be made available for use within majors and programs.

We are researching ways to supplement indirect assessment data with direct assessment. Options at this stage include a locally or nationally developed writing test and institutional writing portfolios, in which are collected examples of actual student writing.