|Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]
Are they glad they came? First year students' views of their university experienceChristina Ballantyne
Teaching and Learning Centre
The survey collected information on a wide range of issues, including reasons for choosing Murdoch University and a particular program, satisfaction with the physical environment of the university and with a variety of student services, academic and personal issues which impinge on the student experience and a self assessment of generic skills. This paper focuses on issues relating to the students' experience of their first year at university; what do they like about being a student, what issues have caused them problems, what might have made them consider withdrawing from the university, how satisfied are they with the course they have chosen and the staff teaching it. Significant differences found between the responses of the two age groups, school leavers and mature age students, will also be examined.
To offer programs of study of the highest quality which ensure that students can achieve their full potential. (Objective TL.1)In order to gain some information on whether the university was meeting these objectives it was decided to undertake a large scale survey of first year students in 1998. The first year cohort is a diverse group, with the traditional school leavers making up only fifty per cent of it.
To provide a teaching and learning environment which achieves interpersonal interaction, interdisciplinary studies, flexible delivery and meets the needs of students. (Objective TL.2)
Interest in what has come to be known as 'the First Year Experience' began in the 1950s (McInnis, 1995). With the increasing numbers of students in Australia in recent years, and the subsequent increasing diversity of the student body, coupled with the competitive climate in higher education, interest in first year students has become a priority.
An attempt was made to conduct focus groups with students to identify issues of importance to them. However as the response was particularly poor and no new concerns were identified, nothing was added to the questionnaire. The questionnaire was piloted in May 1998 and, after a number of small changes, the final version was mailed to first year students in September 1998. First year students were identified as all students who entered undergraduate programs at Murdoch for the first time in either semester 2, 1997 or semester 1, 1998. Approximately twenty-five per cent were admitted with some credit or advanced standing from previous studies. An independent research company was hired to administer the survey.
The questionnaire addressed the following issues:
As can be seen females and full time students are somewhat over represented in the sample. A similar comparison across the Divisions of the university showed a good match with the Division of Science and Engineering being over represented by 4% and the Division of Business, Information Technology and Law being under represented by about 3%. It was felt that these differences were not large enough to influence the degree to which the findings of the survey could be generalised to the total first year population.
|Population %||Sample %|
|20 and over||52||50|
|Attendance type||full time||65||76|
As indicated, this survey covered a number of issues. It is the intention of this paper to concentrate on a few areas only, namely:
Students were asked about both positive and negative experiences at university. Table 2 shows the mean response on a five point scale, where '1' equals 'strongly disagree' and '5' equals 'strongly agree'. A high mean score on positive aspects indicates high student satisfaction. On negative issues we would hope to find high disagreement, and therefore a low mean value, from students if they are happy with their university life. A mean of '3' or more, therefore, indicates general agreement with the statement. Table 2 provides a comparison across the two age groups. Mature age students are generally more positive about their experience than school leavers. Only one of the positive statements, 'I often interact with students of other cultures outside class', shows a mean of less than three.
|The Student Experience||Age group (mean response)|
|a||I really like being a university student||3.98||4.12*||4.05|
|b||Most of the academic staff are approachable||3.79||3.92*||3.85|
|c||I would like to make more use of university facilities if I could||3.73||3.78||3.76|
|d||I really like the atmosphere at this campus||3.77||3.66||3.72|
|e||I think university life really suits me||3.57||3.57||3.57|
|f||Most administrative staff are helpful||3.42||3.67*||3.55|
|g||Staff are usually available to discuss my work||3.33||3.51*||3.42|
|h||I often interact with students of other cultures in class||3.43||3.35||3.39|
|i||I would have liked more opportunities for local-international student interaction at orientation||3.07||3.14||3.11|
|j||Most academic staff in my units take an interest in my progress||2.91||3.19*||3.05|
|k||I often interact with students of other cultures outside class||3.08||2.83*||2.96|
|Neutral or negative statements|
|l||I am not particularly interested in the extra-curricular activities or facilities provided||2.71||3.11*||2.92|
|m||I generally keep to myself at university||2.70||3.11*||2.90|
|n||There are not enough opportunities for local and international students to interact in class||2.60||2.71||2.66|
|o||I have not made close friends at university||2.38||2.86*||2.62|
|p||I have had difficulty adjusting to the different style of teaching at university||2.65||2.43*||2.54|
|q||My financial status has a bad impact on my academic performance||2.43||2.59*||2.51|
|r||University just hasn't lived up to my expectations||2.44||2.05*||2.25|
|* differences between age groups are statistically significant at the .05 level.|
Two hundred and twenty-six students (16 per cent) had withdrawn from one or more units during their first semester at university and three hundred and ninety-eight (28 per cent) had seriously considered withdrawing from the university. Table 3 outlines students' reasons for considering withdrawal, showing the differences between the age groups and sexes. Students were allowed to give as many reasons as they wished, therefore percentages do not sum to one hundred.
There were some considerable differences between respondents of the different groups. Female students were more likely to have considered withdrawal because of emotional health, university not being what they expected, family or financial reasons and problems with travel. One explanation for these differences may be due to the female students having given more reasons than males. (This is something to consider when designing a questionnaire with questions which allow multiple responses.) Mature age students had also thought about withdrawing due to family or financial reasons, whereas school leavers were more likely to have given reasons relating to academic issues, ie dislike of studying or the program and university not being what they expected.
|Reasons for considering withdrawal||Sex %||Age group %||Total %|
|University wasn't what I expected||16||28||37||12||24|
|I disliked studying||17||19||32||5||19|
|I disliked the program||11||12||16||8||12|
|Problems with daily travel||7||13||14||8||11|
Students were asked to report on how the marks they received during their first semester related to what they expected. Those who reported receiving marks lower than expected were no more likely to have withdrawn from a unit or considered withdrawing from the university.
Students were also asked to comment on any personal issues which had caused problems during their first semester, ie personal decisions, distance, family, employment and health. The majority of students had experienced no difficulty at all with these issues. Of those who did report some degree of difficulty, the differences are as might be expected, eg mature age students had more problems with family, employment and health, less with distance and personal decisions. Female students reported more difficulties with health, family and distance than male students.
Research into university study has shown that organisation and interest in the area of study are highly related to student success. Students' level of agreement on a number of statements relating to these areas was sought. Table 4 shows mean responses, calculated on a scale of '1' strongly agree to '5' strongly disagree, for all students, males and females and school leavers and mature age students. Both positive and negative statements were asked. About half of the students surveyed feel that they work hard at university and they enjoy their studies. However, although the majority of students seem to have settled well to university study, thirty-nine per cent report that they have problems with time management for their studies. On the positive statements, female students are more positive than males. Between the age groups, however, the differences are more marked. Overall mature age students are more positive on these issues than school leavers, ie they have a higher mean response on the positive statements and a lower mean response on the negative ones.
|Study skills/ Academic preparation||Sex|
|a||I work hard at my studies||3.36||3.65*||3.34||3.76*||3.55|
|b||I enjoy studying||3.25||3.43*||3.00||3.74*||3.37|
|c||I have problems organising my study time||2.95||2.82||2.94||2.79*||2.86|
|d||The transition to university is more difficult than I thought it would be||2.39||2.42||2.49||2.33*||2.41|
|e||I felt 'burnt out' by gaining the entrance qualifications||2.08||2.08||2.51||1.65*||2.08|
|* differences between age groups are statistically significant at the .05 level.|
Table 5: Students' agreement on statements relating to teaching
and learning issues - Comparison across sex and age groups.
|Teaching and learning issues||Sex|
|a||I have been encouraged to be an independent learner||3.83||4.00*||3.84||4.04*||3.94|
|b||I am finding my program intellectually stimulating||3.80||3.96*||3.74||4.07*||3.91|
|c||Overall, I am really enjoying my program||3.78||3.85||3.67||3.98*||3.83|
|d||Overall, I am very satisfied with my university experience so far||3.81||3.83||3.70||3.95*||3.82|
|e||The quality of teaching in my program is generally good||3.72||3.82*||3.73||3.85*||3.79|
|f||Staff are enthusiastic about the units they teach||3.57||3.65||3.54||3.71*||3.63|
|g||The teaching staff are good at explaining things||3.47||3.51||3.42||3.58*||3.50|
|h||Staff try hard to make the units interesting||3.47||3.52||3.39||3.61*||3.50|
|i||There is a positive attitude towards learning amongst my fellow students||3.36||3.48*||3.38||3.50*||3.44|
|j||I have a clear idea of where my program is going||3.44||3.41||3.29||3.56*||3.42|
|k||Staff made it clear from the start what they expect from students||3.32||3.38||3.23||3.48*||3.36|
|l||The staff made a real effort to understand any difficulties I was having with my work||3.23||3.28||3.15||3.37*||3.26|
|m||Teaching staff here usually give helpful feedback on my progress||3.15||3.25||3.09||3.34*||3.22|
|n||The volume of work to be got through in this program means that I can't comprehend it all thoroughly||3.20||3.16||3.28||3.07*||3.18|
|o||My program workload is too heavy||3.07||2.92*||3.03||2.91*||2.98|
|p||It seems to me that the syllabus tries to cover too many topics||2.97||2.91||3.09||2.77*||2.93|
|q||I would like to have more computer based or online learning||3.07||2.75*||2.71||3.00*||2.86|
|r||It would be possible to get through this program just by working hard around assessment times||2.51||2.39||2.62||2.24*||2.43|
|s||The aims and objectives of my units were not made very clear||2.48||2.36||2.43||2.37||2.40|
|t||The course work is not challenging enough for me||2.00||1.90||1.95||1.92||1.94|
|* differences are statistically significant at the .05 level.|
Students were asked to rate their satisfaction out of a maximum score of 100, with their program. Overall the students were highly satisfied with a median score of 77 across all programs.
Murdoch University (1997). Strategic and Quality Improvement Plan for 1997 to 2002. Murdoch University, Perth.
McInnis, C., James, R. and McNaught, C. (1995). First year on campus: Diversity in the initial experiences of Australian undergraduates. Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne.
|Please cite as: Ballantyne, C. (2000). Are they glad they came? First year students' views of their university experience. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/ballantyne.html|