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SIS looks to increase future participation


Preliminary results from an ongoing study conducted by Ellen Woods, associate vice provost for Undergraduate Education, have determined that 70 percent of the current sophomore class has been enrolled in either an Introductory Seminar or a September Studies course — whether Sophomore College or Arts Intensive — since beginning at Stanford.


The study will conclude with the Class of 2014 and will help the Office of Undergraduate Education pinpoint whom it does not reach, why it does not reach them and what it can do to improve the program. At this time, it does not seek to assess the affects of Stanford Introductory Studies (SIS) on the undergraduate experience.


SIS collected this data through a survey sent to the current sophomore class that included both multiple choice and open-ended questions. The survey was sent to all members of the Class of 2014 who had not taken an Introductory Seminar in July. SIS analyzed enrollment data to see which students were new to introductory seminars at the conclusion of fall quarter, and will continue to do so after winter and spring quarters.


The survey focused on the freshman experience in particular.


The impact of dorm assignments on participation was one significant area that the study shed light upon.


“All the dorm participation rates were almost identical, excluding FroSoCo [Freshman-Sophomore College], where participation rates are significantly higher,” Woods said. “There doesn’t seem to be any relationship between where you live in the freshman year and whether or not you enroll in a seminar.”


Because of this, differences in residential advising have been discounted as a significant factor in Introductory Studies enrollment.


Though the data shows an overwhelmingly positive student response to introductory programs, the evidence from Woods’ study is now being analyzed in order to determine why the other 30 percent of students have not taken advantage of these programs.


The Introductory Seminars web page heralds the seminars as a place where students are provided with a “focused, in-depth environment to try out an area of interest.” Yet, open-ended responses to the study identified intimidation as a major reason why certain students decide not to apply.


“Some students would rather be in a large class or are intimidated by being in a small class with a professor,” Woods said.


In order to eliminate this “intimidation factor,” the Office of Undergraduate Education is preliminarily seeking to collaborate with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), undergraduate advising programs and other existing resources to determine remedies.


According to Woods, some students may believe that their “undergraduate education is complete without it” when it comes to Introductory Studies.


The study identifies discouragement as another important factor. Students who wish to enroll in Introductory Studies and September Studies must first submit an essay application and are hand-selected by the instructor of their course. Space is limited, and clear evidence suggests that some students who are not accepted decide not to apply to future seminars.


This fall, the Introductory Studies program made concerted efforts to reverse this cycle.


“We sent a message to all students who did not get in referring them to what we learned from the Resilience Project,” Woods said. “Perhaps to avoid the discouragement of being turned down.”


Still, of all students who do not enroll, the vast majority are unable to fit the seminar into their schedule of classes, according to Woods. Because it is clear that seminars cluster at a particular time of day, the Office of Undergraduate Education will work on recommendations to faculty and departments that will spread class times throughout the day.


Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam agrees that this assumption about schedule conflicts is the most fitting.  “Most Stanford students want to take advantage of everything we offer, so I think it’s more [an issue] of fitting a seminar into crowded schedules than it is a strong commitment not to take one,” Elam wrote in an email to The Daily.


The results of this study will continue to be assessed throughout this year and are part of a “general program evaluation” that is done on a regular basis by numerous program directors on campus.


Though other universities offer seminars for freshman and sophomores, Elam believes that Stanford’s program is unique in that it provides “almost a perfect teaching and learning situation, [in which] faculty teach seminars on topics of special interest, motivated students enroll in the seminar and together the faculty and students explore a topic they both care about.”


According to Woods, the purpose of this study of the Class of 2014 is clear.


“We want students to know that Introductory Seminars are a valuable educational experience, we have space for them and we want to serve them.”



Contact Lauryn at [email protected]

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