For your term project, you and your group will design and carry out a survey of the college community and analyze the results. Groups should be between two and five members.
A major emphasis of this course is discovering and quantifying causal relationships. This reflects the overall mission of the college to develop citizen leaders who can engage the community and foster productive change. For this reason, the subject of your survey should be a current or proposed policy that would affect the conduct of the college or the conditions of students or other members of the community. It's essential that the subject center on the evaluation of the policy in terms of impact. This is not intended to be an opinion poll, although surveying opinions might be a part of your project.
Here are several examples of situations that relate to current or proposed policies at the college. You and your group are welcome to choose one of these, or you may have an idea of your own.
These are all open-ended questions and a thorough consideration might require much more work that you will be able to put into a term project for this course. You are welcome to focus on one or two facets of the situation.
Example Are class sizes too big?
Don't just ask for student opinions. Presumably, some classes are too big and some aren't. What are the factors that determine whether a class is too big? Obviously the number of students enrolled is a major factor, but also there is the style of the class, whether the class provides skills needed for downstream classes, whether individual feedback (e.g., in writing or computer programming) is important, whether the classes are taken to meet distribution requirements, whether there is a course project, etc. How do students judge when a class is too big or too small? Is it true that only small classes have productive discussions?
Example Strategic Planning.
As you may know, the college is currently developing a strategic plan to guide activities over the next decade. In February 2013, the Board of Trustees sent out a list of seven questions to guide planning. Some of these are general, some financial/economic, and some relate directly to the student experience such as these three questions:
(2) What role should information technologies, including evolving technologies associated with distance learning, play at the college over the next several years and beyond? Do we imagine that these technologies will alter Macalester’s target audience? (6) Without diminishing our core commitment to a liberal arts education, how can we best ensure that students are also receiving sound preparation for rewarding and successful careers? (7) Given the costs of providing a residential college experience at a time when higher education is becoming increasingly non-residential, what steps should be taken to assess, maximize, and promote the personal and intellectual benefits of that experience?
From such questions, you can generate hypotheses, e.g. “Three years of college is enough.” Then strategize about what sorts of questions might address your hypothesis, e.g. “When did you decide on a major?” Remember, the goal is not to survey student opinion but to collect data and to look for relationships among variables, e.g. Does the timing of a choice of a major depend on the field? What factors led to your deciding on a major? How might your decision have been facilitated?
You should budget 10 hours of effort from each group member for this project. As a rough guide:
You will be undertaking this project in the context of a course. That means that professional-level standards need to be applied in safeguarding the confidentiality of data you collect. For example, it would be inappropriate to collect survey data that purports to be anonymous, and then to publish excerpts or analysis that identifies individual respondents. If you want to quote someone in a way that might reasonably be traceable to the individual, you need to get that individual's explicit consent.
There are formal college policies for research involving human subjects. The governing document is “Research Involving Human Participants at Macalester College,” prepared in 2009 by the chair of the College's Institutional Review Board, Prof. Martin Gunderson. A copy is available at here .
Your work must comply with these policies. Read the document and make sure you have a solid idea of what approval, if any, is required and be prepared to make a case to the course instructor supporting your ideas. You must get your instructor's approval before undertaking the survey component of your study.
You will use Google Docs to produce your report or presentation as well as preliminary documents such as survey results and data files. Upload links to Moodle to hand in your work.
Feel free to accelerate this schedule.