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Logo: American Democracy Project: Freshman Summer Reading Program

2006 Summer Reading Program
Summary and Analysis of
Student and Instructor Surveys

by Cynthia Boaz
Project Coordinator, American Democracy Project
Department of Political Science & International Studies

This report summarizes and analyzes surveys of students and instructors on the 2006 Summer Reading Program and the book selected for this year, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. The surveys were administered on Angel, and promoted through an email sent to all faculty and students involved in the Academic Planning Seminars in fall 2006. Both surveys were conduced anonymously. A total of 18 instructors completed the instructor survey, and 82 students completed the student survey (it should be noted that both surveys were elective and sent out late this year due to extenuating circumstances on the part of the project coordinator, so these responses may not be completely representative of the larger universe of APS faculty and students.)

The results are included in Table 1 (Students) and Table 2 (Instructors), found at the end of this report. Almost all of the students (93%), but only about three quarters of the instructors (78%) received a copy of “The Things They Carried.” Most of the students (82%) claimed to have read the book, while an encouraging 89% of instructors did so. Students and instructors agreed that requiring the students to buy the book themselves would not have increased their likelihood of reading it (93% and 89%, respectively.) Given the already high rate of those students and instructors already claiming to have read the book, there seems to be no need to change this particular practice.

We asked several questions specific to “The Things They Carried.” The percentages of students (83%) who found the book informative was encouraging, but not surprising given the subject matter. Of those who did not read “The Things They Carried”, 22% of the students as opposed 40% of the instructors stated that they would have been more likely to read something on a different topic (please note that the number of respondents for this particular question among instructors was very low.) These results suggest that the content of the book matters, which is consistent with this survey’s findings from the previous two years. Students and instructors both agreed that SRP should continue in summer 2007, but to varying degrees. While 83% of instructors stated that it should continue (the remaining 17% answered “no opinion”, not in the negative), only 60% of students indicated the same preference (somewhat surprising, given the percentage of students who read the book.) This finding suggests that student input as to book selection for the SRP may positively impact their experience.

Student ambivalence about the SRP may have been due to a lack of attention to the book in APS classes, as only 38% of students responded that “The Things They Carried” was incorporated into their APS section “a lot” or “somewhat”. (Interestingly, 50% of APS instructors indicated that they had incorporated the book into their course, while the other 50% answered “N/A”.)  A slightly greater (but comparable) percentage of students (32%) than instructors (27%) believed that the subject matter of the book made it difficult to integrate into the curriculum. This suggests that discussions of the book in classes may not be entirely effective given the specialized nature of the subject matter (i.e. it may be inaccessible for some students and difficult for some faculty – those in disciplines in which the book does not fit easily—to teach.)

The open-ended instructor comments are varied. The first question asked which type of book is most appropriate for the SRP. Many instructors either explicitly said or else implied that this book was the best of the SRP selections thus far. Interestingly, several indicated that they would like more variance in the faculty and disciplinary involvement in the program, while others said they were pleased with the diversity of perspectives involved in the SRP events. Several instructors also answered that this year’s book may have been too complex and/or abstract for freshman. Others wrote that the topic should be timely and relevant (several indicated it should be an American book by an American author), and a couple of people indicated that while the subject matter should be interesting, it should not be “too controversial.”

On the question that asked about improvements to SRP, most instructors expressed satisfaction with the way in which the program is run and how instructors (especially APS) are given helpful guidelines to integrate the book into their courses. There were suggestions to incorporate the art of writing into the SRP events, and to explain the book selection to the campus community, so that its insertion into APS courses did not seem so “arbitrary.” On the question that asked instructors what kinds of things would make it easier to incorporate the SRP into their classes, key suggestions included distributing a list of SRP-related events during the summer (if possible) in time to be incorporated into course syllabi, and continuing with the discussion questions and adding a study guide.

We also asked students an open-ended question on whatever feedback they’d like to submit regarding “The Things They Carried” and the SRP.  Approximately one quarter of the students answering the survey commented. It is difficult to summarize the variance in the responses, but by and large the comments were constructive. Some of the key comments included frustration with the depressing subject matter of the book and the fact that many students had read it in high school. On the other hand, many students expressed appreciation for the way the book was integrated into the campus community through the ongoing events and library exhibit, and others even suggested creating a mandatory assignment for all APS students about the book.

Both faculty and students expressed widespread support for an event including the book’s author, and the feedback on the Tim O’Brien talk was universally positive.

Collectively, the survey results suggest several things.
  1. Continue to distribute the book to all incoming first-year students free of charge over the summer, as early in the summer as possible. Consider including a study guide and/or discussion questions.
  2. The content of the book is very significant to the students. They want something that is topical and accessible, while instructors prefer something that is significant and relevant to their courses. Obviously, few books will meet all of these criteria to everyone’s satisfaction, but having students serve on the SRP book selection committee is important.
  3. Continue to make more of an attempt to integrate the SRP into the co-curriculum (invite speakers, sponsor lectures, conduct debates, get residence hall and other co-curricular staff more involved, etc.) The 2006 library exhibit received widespread support.
  4. Continue to provide guidance to APS instructors on how to incorporate the book in their classes using lesson plans, materials, etc. Continue to make a special effort to target and encourage non-APS faculty to incorporate the SRP book into their classes. Make these materials easily available to them (including giving out free copies of the book) would provide additional incentive.

Table 1: Students

Survey Question

Total Yes (%)

Total No (%)

Total Responses

1. Did you receive a copy of “The Things They Carried” in summer 2006?

93% (76)

7% (6)

82

2. Did you read “The Things They Carried”?

82% (67)

17% (14)

82

3. If you did read “The Things They Carried”, did you find the book informative?

83% (60)

17% (12)

72

4. If you did not read “The Things They Carried”, would you have been more likely to read a book on a different topic/subject?

85% (17)

15% (3)

20

5. If students been required to purchase “The Things They Carried”, on your own, do you think they would have been more likely to read it?

7% (6)

83% (76)

82

6. Has your APS instructor incorporated “The Things They Carried” into your class discussions?

65% (53)

35% (28)

81

7. Have any of your other (non APS) instructors incorporated the book into class discussions?

48% (39)

52% (42)

81

8. Did the subject matter of “The Things They Carried” make it difficult to incorporate into your classes?

32% (26)

57% (46)

81

9. Have you had any discussions of "The Things They Carried" or the subject matter of the book outside of your classes – in residence halls, with other students, with faculty, etc.?

33% (27)

67% (55)

82

10. Do you recommend that we continue with the Summer Reading Program next year?

60% (49)

40% (33)

82

*Replies of “N/A” or “No Opinion” are left off the analysis, but are included in the final response report.


Table 2: Instructors

Survey Question

Total Responses

Total Yes
(%)

Total No
 (%)

1. Were you an Academic Planning Seminar (APS)/GEP 100 instructor for the Fall 2006 semester?

18

44% (8)

56% (10)

2. If you were NOT an APS/GEP 100 instructor, do/did you teach a course with a majority of freshman students (greater than 50 percent) during the fall 2006 semester?

13

62% (8)

38% (5)

3. Did you receive a copy of “The Things They Carried”?

18

78% (14)

22% (4)

4. Did you read “The Things They Carried”?

18

89% (16)

11% (2)

5. If you did read “The Things They Carried,” did you find the book informative?

18

72%(13)

5% (1)

6. If you did not read “The Things They Carried”, would you have been more likely to read a book on a different topic/subject?

5

40% (2)

60% (3)

7. If students were required to purchase “The Things They Carried” on their own, do you think they would be more likely to read it?

18

11% (2)

89% (16)

8. If you are an APS/GEP 100 instructor Fall 2006, have you incorporated “The Things They Carried” in your APS/GEP 100 class?

16

50% (8)

0% (0)

9. If you are an instructor for any class (other than APS/GEP 100), have you incorporated “The Things They Carried” into your classes (excluding APS/GEP 100)?

12

42% (5)

25% (3)

10. Did the subject matter of “The Things They Carried” make it difficult for you to incorporate the book into your classes?

18

28% (5)

61% (11)

11. Are you comfortable with someone else selecting a book for one of your classes?

18

56% (10)

22% (4)

12. Should we continue with the Summer Reading Program during summer 2007?

18

83% (15)

0% (0)

13. When should the Summer Reading Program book be distributed?

18

Summer

67% (12)

Orientation

28% (5)

*Replies of “N/A”, “No Opinion”, “Other”, or “Unsure” are left off the analysis, but are included in the final response report.