March 31, 2009

Course Characteristics that are Most Important to Students

By: in Teaching and Learning, Teaching Professor Blog

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Which of the factors listed below would you predict students would say are the most important when they are deciding which courses to take?

  • Active learning environment with lively and engaging class sessions
  • Assignments which emphasize development of analytical and computational skills
  • Assignments which emphasize development of communication skills
  • Clearly defined assignment and testing requirements
  • Constructive feedback
  • Convenience of the class time or location
  • Expectation of achieving a high grade
  • Expert instructor
  • Flexible course design allowing choice in course components
  • Frequent and prompt feedback
  • Group work and opportunity to network with other students
  • Instructor who is accessible and helpful
  • Low out-of-class workload
  • Relevance of course curriculum to life skills and/or career goals

In a study of 275 accounting students (83 percent of whom were millennial students, as in born after 1982), these four course characteristics topped the list: 1) clearly defined assignments and testing requirements; 2) relevance of course curriculum to life skills and/or career goals; 3) convenience of the class time or location; and 4) instructor who is accessible and helpful.

Interesting … I don’t think accounting students are representative of all students. Maybe that explains the need for clarity in assignments and testing? The good news, which surprised the researcher as well, was that the need for a high grade didn’t top the list. In fact it came out as seventh most important.

As for those characteristics on the bottom of the list? They included (proceeding down to the least important): 1) flexible course design allowing choice in course components; 2) assignments emphasizing the development of analytical and computational skills; 3) assignments emphasizing the development of communication skills; and 4) group work and opportunity to network with other students.

Interesting … these students reported that they didn’t opt for courses offering the opportunity to work on skills clearly relevant to their professional lives.

What would your students list? The results to even as simple an assessment technique as this one illustrate how much an instructor can learn from feedback like this. It’s not only useful to know, but the results prompt all sorts of reflection and analysis for the instructor but just as valuably for students whose decision making criteria may need to be challenged.

Reference: Milliron, V. C. (2008). Exploring millennial student values and societal trends: Accounting course selection preferences. Issues in Accounting Education, 23 (3), 405-419.

—Maryellen Weimer

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