"The difference between good and excellent: details" ~ Anonymous

Survey: Students' Awareness of SLOs

by Dr. Allain Bourgoin

The 5 questions given in red had been sent to all faculty members a few days before the start of the semester. I submitted these questions to the students in all of the 4 courses I teach during the present semester. The survey was given the first day of class once the syllabus had been presented.

  1. Why are you taking this particular course?
  2. How does the course fit into your academic plan?
  3. Do you understand what the course SLOs are?
  4. What grade do you believe you will earn in this course?
  5. How hard do you believe you will need to work to earn the grade you believe you will receive?

The following table reflects the number of students who answered the survey.

Environmental Studies (3 credits)
(science open elective – mainly freshman students)
15 surveys (potential of 27 )
(56% of the students were present the first day of class)
Oceanography (4 credits)
(science open elective – mainly freshman students)
6 surveys (potential of 16)
(38% of the students were present the first day of class)
Marine Ecology (3 credits)
(Marine science majors – mainly sophomore students)
16 surveys (potential of 17)
(94% -- presence -- only 1 person was absent the first day of class)
Fisheries Biology (3 credits)
(Marine science majors – all sophomore students- many will graduate this Spring)
15 surveys (potential of 18)
(83%  presence; 3 students were absent the first day of class)

52 surveys (potential of 78)
(67% of the students did the survey)

An important observation should be underlined relative to the attendance on the first day of class. This is the moment where the “syllabus” is presented and the SLOs are discussed. It is also the time where the instructor explains what is expected from the students in terms of assignments and other workload. From the present survey, with a total of 4 courses, there was 33% absentee.  Worse, the absences were for the most part in both the Environmental Studies and Oceanography courses. Both these two courses mainly target “freshman students”.  Being in their first year of college, these students are the ones in most need of being well informed on SLOs. Yet, they are the ones who are missing out on this information. I suspect that this is a college wide issue. There definitely is a need to revise the “add and drop policy” so that students attend class right from the start.

(Based on 52 survey sheets that were answered)

Question 1: Why are you taking this particular course?
Interest in the subject
Required for the major (often also add --- their interest in the subject as well)
No other available electives (i.e. no other choice)
Question 2: How does this course fit into your academic plan?
Interest relative for a future career (Marine science majors and future teachers)
Required for the major (often also add – interest for future career)
Need the credits – open elective – not particularly interested
Question 3: Do you understand what the course SLOs are? Furnish a short explanation.
Yes --- often the explanation supported well the affirmative answer
No or not well understood --- usually no associated answer
Question 4: What grade do you believe you will earn in this course? Explain your answer.
A – 33%
B – 18%
C – 11%
B or C – 27%
D – 0%
P – 11%
Will work hard; strive for the best grade
Will work hard; some weakness in sciences; understand it is a difficult course
Some weakness in sciences; expect that it is a difficult course
(similar as above)
Weaknesses in sciences; expect that is will be a difficult course
Question 5: How hard do you believe that you will need to work to earn the grade you believe you will receive? Explain your answer (weaknesses versus strengths).
Wrote that they will work hard; attend class; arrive on time in class; do all assignments; be responsible
One underlined to study hard but “study smart”
Some students expect the course to be difficult – consequently, they will need to work harder
Comments given by 8% of the students but all comments simply repeated previous information

Points to highlight from the above results:

1-    The majority of the students who will be following the 4 courses with me during Spring 2013 session are interested in the content of the course and/or need it for their majors. Only a few of them are registered in the course to fill needed credits rather than from interest.

2-    Around 70% of the students understood clearly what SLOs meant and could clearly explain it on paper. There are still around 30% of the surveyed students who need to be better informed with regards to SLOs. But a more in depth analysis would reflect that these are mainly “freshman students”. Unfortunately, they are the ones that accounted for the most absences on the first day of class when SLOs were explained (both Environmental studies and Oceanography course).

3-    Most students expect to get a C or better average. Overall, about one third of the students expect to obtain a A in their course. All are willing to work “very hard” to achieve their goals. A number of them are aware that it is important to attend class and arrive on time in class. Most of them are equally aware of the importance of submitting all assignments. Many expect the course will be hard. Thus, extra effort will be needed to achieve the chosen grade. A number of them feel that their weaknesses in sciences and math might hinder them in achieving the expected grade. (The comment on “math” issue, mainly relates to the students registered in Fisheries Biology.)

4-    Finally, only a few students (8%) added comments at the end of the survey, but none of these comments were pertinent.  It was mostly information repeated from what had previously been said. The others (92%) left that section blank.


R. Pulmano equally took time to present the same set of questions to his students (Accounting course…) at the beginning of the semester. Although his approach was more interactive and more engaging, at first glance, his analysis reflects somewhat the results obtained with the students surveyed in my 4 courses. In fact, the majority of the students are “aware of SLOs” and their importance in their academic plan. And the majority of the students wish to obtain C or better in their course. All are willing to work hard to achieve their goals. Although this appears interesting on paper, on the practical side of things, the reality does not reflect the student’s expectations. In fact, like R. Pulmano, my first series of class quizzes produced a D+ and even F average (in Environmental Studies). We are, thus, far from the B or A averages targeted by the students. Plus, this is only the beginning of the semester. The work load is still relatively light. What will be happening in the coming weeks or months once new material starts piling up? Students need to realize sooner than later that they hold the key to their academic success. It is one thing to write in a survey: “… I intend on working hard in order to get a good grade…” but it is another thing to put it in practice.


In summary, the survey was a good exercise to permit students to become better informed on the pertinence of SLOs. Interestingly, results obtained from different faculty members (2 in this case) in varied fields lead to similar conclusions. But there is definitely the reality that students need to “practice” what they “preach”. Unfortunately no faculty member has any control on this. In other words, no faculty member can do the “hard work” that so many students say they wish to do. (But are they willing to roll up their sleeves and do it?)

Allain Bourgoin
Course instructor
Spring session 2013
January 29,  2013

NOTE: I wish to thank Dr. Allain Bourgoin for letting me publish his work in this web site. When I asked for his permission, the response was immediate and without hesitation. His exact words: "By all means go ahead. If that can be useful and if it can create "more awareness" within the college community, it will even be better."

Rafael Pulmano


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