Analysis: Word Rankings

Individual analysis performed and written by Niuzheng ‘NZ’ Chai.

I looked specifically at rankings and choices. I wanted to see what students would choose when given a choice of descriptions/words, mostly because I was curious if other students held the same sentiments towards certain words like I do. Overall, the results have been what I expected, which is comforting because now I know I’m not a weirdo but also disappointing, because now I also know I’m not that ~unique~.

Description Comparison (Q3)

Unsurprisingly, students surveyed largely preferred the descriptive description over the jargon-y one (Fig 1).

The most likely reason I can think of is that the descriptive description paints a better picture about the course and better prepares students for what they will be potentially getting themselves into compared to the one filled with jargon.

For a student to understand what a module/course/degree is about just by a few measly lines of text is already difficult enough, and if that few lines is made up almost entirely of words like “active learning”, “student-led teaching” and “summative knowledge retention activity”, then it’s basically like trying to write a book report on a book you’ve never read. Which was also written in pig-Latin. And missing half the pages. But, I digress.

The main point is that jargon-filled descriptions are not helpful in allowing students to gauge the content and requirements of a course, which is why they don’t prefer it.

I think First Years and pre-Uni students would be most put-off by such unfriendly descriptions because they should have the least exposure to it. As students progress through their University education, they will inadvertently come across and become somewhat familiar with such jargon (although new ones also keep popping up).

Therefore, it would be interesting to compare the responses between different years. I expect that the gap in preferences will decrease as the number of years in Uni increases; however there probably won’t be a scenario where there is more preference for the jargon-y description.

Fig 1. Pie chart illustration proportion of student preferences for sample course descriptions. Orange represents the descriptive description and yellow represents the jargon-filled description.

Ranking Different Words (Q4 & 5)

In order to be more #relatable, we had students rank different words using emojis

😠 🙁 😐 🙂 😄

Question 4 was dedicated to words associated with assessment (Fig 2) and Question 5 was for words associated with teaching methods (Fig 3). While most of the responses were expected, it was surprising to see overwhelming positive response for “Presentation” (Fig 2) and “Tutorial” (Fig 3).

Perhaps the large proportion of Medicine students may have contributed to this skew.

Interestingly, “Independent Research” was met with a lot of negativity. For a STEM University that prizes its cutting-edge research, it is unexpected (and maybe worrying) that the students don’t share the same excitement. The lack of enthusiasm for “Independent Research” is echoed in the responses for “Laboratory Work” (Fig 3), suggesting that the negativity towards “Independent Research” may partly be due to its implied need for lab work.

Naturally, a follow-up study should be done to investigate students’ reasons for such feelings. It would also be valuable to study the responses from different degrees/departments, since different assessment and teaching methods are emphasized in each degree/department.

For example, an Electrical and Electronic Engineering student would have presumably written far less essays at Uni than a Biological Sciences student – therefore they should have different perceptions of the word “Essay”.

Fig 2. Pie charts indicating emoji rankings for each assessment-related word. Each emoji represents a degree of preference (eg. 😠 = strong dislike)
Fig 3. Pie charts showing emoji rankings for words related to methods of teaching. Each emoji represents a degree of preference (eg. 😠 = strong dislike)

Comparative Language

One thing we were interested in learning more about through the survey was the way students felt about different words. To illuminate this, we picked pairs of words with very similar meanings or opposite meanings and asked students to indicate which word they were more attracted to of the pair. The four pairs analysed below are independent vs. collaborative, groupwork vs. teamwork, continuous assessment vs. final assessment, and worked problems vs. problem-based learning.

Independent – vs – Collaborative

The comparison of independent vs. collaborative resulted in an almost perfect bell curve. 37% of students had a preference for independent and 33% of students had a preference for collaborative. In discussing these results, we found them as expected in the sense that different people prefer to work differently. We think it is likely that the preference has a lot to do with personality type and thus a wide spread seems reasonable. However, it is often thought around Imperial that students tend to be more introverted than other cohorts and if so, they might prefer independent work. However, these results do not show that to be the case. According to our survey, there is a wide range of preferences among the students.

Groupwork vs Teamwork

Groupwork versus Teamwork was a very interesting result to me as a Teaching Fellow, but not surprising to the student researchers. Survey respondents had a clear preference for teamwork (52%) compared to groupwork (21%). In discussing why that might be the case, we considered that teamwork might sound like it is more evenly distributed or equal among members and that they would be working towards a common goal. Groupwork could be seen as more imposed, in that groups may be assigned. There might be some very interesting nuance in this word pairing and it would be very interesting to discuss further with focus groups.

Worked Problems vs Problem Based Learning

Similar to the previous result, students had a strong preference for Problem Based Learning (PBL, 55%) compared to Worked Problems (WP, 25%). Again, the two words result in very similar things, as they are effectively different descriptions for problem sets and thus we might expect a bell curve response. However, students preferred the PBL description. In discussing the results, the student researchers suggested that perhaps the WP distinction sounds more passive and assessed, whereas the PBL description sounds more active and as though problems are likely to be reviewed and discussed. This is another pairing that would be interesting to discuss further in focus groups. It could also be interesting to do additional data analysis to see if there is a degree course or year group bias in the results. For instance, do first-years prefer worked problems because they sound more familiar to what they did in school?

Continuous Assessment vs Final Assessment

The last word pairing to discuss is a contrasting pair of words relating to course assessment styles. A preference for continuous assessment (CA, 49%) was found relative to final assessment (FA, 30%). These words are provided out of context, but the results are interesting nevertheless. Almost half of students have a preference towards continuous assessment, while almost a third of students have a preference for final assessment. However, the majority of students fell somewhere in between. 76% of respondents had a slight preference or no preference either way. This may indicate that the majority of students would enjoy a course that was designed to include a combination of continuous and final assessment. A focus group to investigate this would be very interesting and could help teachers design courses and assessments in a student-centred way.

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