Online Orientation and Directed Self-Placement at Governors State University


GSU in Context

Governors State University is a public, two year, upper-division commuter institution approximately 35 miles south of Chicago.  It is one of the few upper-division (juniors, seniors, and graduate students) universities in the United States.  The typical undergraduate student is an adult, entering the university with sixty hours of earned college credit or an associate’s degree from one of five regional community colleges.  The student’s average age is 34; and 71% of these students are female and hold either a full time job or several part time jobs.  Governors State is an open-admissions university, although many of the graduate programs are competitive and students must complete supplemental application packets.  The first doctoral program in the university’s history will be offered in Physical Therapy beginning in the Fall, 2007 trimester.

The university currently enrolls approximately 6,000 students.  Many of these students come to the university from the southern suburban region of Chicago. 

Of our students, 42% are minorities, and 45% receive some type of financial aid



Proficiency Testing Program History

Since Governors State is an upper-division university, all undergraduate students enter having completed their general education requirements in writing and mathematics.  The reality, though, is that many of these students are not prepared to pass junior and senior level writing and math courses.  The reasons for this are complex.  A common problem is that many of our students “stop out” from higher education for ten years or more, and their writing and math skills are rusty and/or in need of remediation.

In the early 1980’s, all incoming undergraduate students were required to take proficiency examinations in math and writing.  Students took the Test of Standard Written English (TSWE), an outdated, very traditional multiple choice exam.  Based on results of this exam, students could be required to take a writing course.  The math exam consisted of arithmetic, elementary algebra, and intermediate algebra for students enrolled in the College of Business.  Based on these exam results, many students were funneled into basic math workshops, similar to zero courses at a community college: student pays tuition, yet no college credit is earned.

Students were extremely resistant to taking the required proficiency exams.  Those students whose scores forced them into registering for the writing course and/or basic math workshops were disgruntled and resentful.  Students were angry, staff responsible for administering the exams were frustrated, and not many people in the university believed these exams determined if our adult students were proficient in writing and math.


Online Orientation/Directed Self-Placement

The undergraduate program that we have developed for advising adult learners is called Online Orientation (OO) with Directed Self-Placement (DSP).  The program’s origins can be traced to June 1999 to the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC).  The WAC program and WAC Board were on the verge of extinction: the Director knew another direction was necessary for both.  The Director attended a professional conference that defined the concept of Directed Self-Placement.  This method is used at various colleges and universities and the authors of this article, Dan Royer and Roger Gilles: “Directed Self-Placement: An Attitude of Orientation” (CCC 50.1/September 1998) outline its parameters.

The basic premise of this placement method is that students are intelligent and responsible enough to make honest, adult decisions about their educational choices.


Program mission and objectives

Overall, OO/DSP seeks to help students get the help they need and, most importantly, maintain their dignity in the process.  As adult learners, most of our students juggle numerous responsibilities: families, health, jobs, and their college education.  They make decisions every day that affect these different aspects of their lives.  Why not finish their undergraduate education making an informed, thoughtful decision about coursework that relates to their chosen major/program?  The primary objective of the Online Orientation/Directed Self-Placement program is to “direct” our adult learners in making appropriate choices about supplemental coursework in math and/or writing.  Another objective is to uphold institutional responsibility for learning, while holding students accountable for their educational choices. 


Technical Information

Online Orientation and Directed Self-Placement were developed through GSU’s IT department, from scratch. The staff of Student Development worked closely with an IT liaison for three years to develop the program.  The new program had to work with existing software, place holds on student accounts when a student is admitted to the university; lift the hold quickly when the student completes OO/DSP, so the student can register. Developing these interfaces was probably the most critical matter. (On this site, you can find the flow chart for this project as well as the information sent to students when they are admitted to the university.)


Program description  

Once undergraduate students are accepted into the university, they are instructed to access and complete the Online Orientation/Directed Self-Placement program before they register.  The orientation portion guides students through basic university information, practices, and policies.  The Directed Self-Placement portion consists of two instruments.  The first is a self-inventory and the second a multiple choice skills assessment.  Students are then instructed as to the writing they will be required to do in their coursework and are given a student-written, sample paper to read.  For math, students complete the same types of instruments and are given information about the math courses required for their major field.  Students complete OO/DSP on a computer, and their rankings from the instruments are automatically scored.  Next students are lead to a “recommended” decision based on their scores.  In the end, however, students themselves decided whether or not to place into a supplemental writing or math course. 


Program evaluation/strengths/toughest challenges

The program became university policy during the 2003 Spring/Summer trimester.

At first, student reviews were enthusiastic about the change.  However, as student memory of the old proficiency system faded, their enthusiasm toward OO/DSP waned, but certainly OO/DSP is generally well accepted. In fact, the student evaluation section at the end of OO/DSP remains favorable.

The toughest challenge for OO/DSP to date has been that most of the university’s advisors do not use OO/DSP when advising students.  In part, this problem stems from our disparate methods of advising.  Advising is done several ways throughout the university, depending on the college, program, and division.  The university has four colleges: Business and Public Administration, Education, Arts and Sciences, and Health Professions.  In addition, there is the School of Interdisciplinary Learning.  This school, as well as Business and Public Administration, and Education use professional advisors.  The College of Health Professions and Arts and Sciences use faculty members as advisors.

Advisor support for Directed Self-Placement is a critical component of the program.  Since students make their own decisions, the opportunity to discuss their choice can either solidify that choice, or convince a student that seeking help is a good idea.  All of the university’s advisors, whether professional or faculty, should access student DSP data and use that data at the first advising session with a student.  This discussion of student decisions is critical for developing academic study plans. 

Aware of the challenges, a newly created Directed Self-Placement Advisory Board made up of numerous stakeholders within the university will begin to tackle these tough issues.  This Board will communicate with faculty advisors, who for the most part, do not access DSP data.  Most generally, placement into supplemental courses and workshops is from colleges that use professional advisors.  With communication and caring as key elements, we will offer tools for advisors to help them to guide students to the best education possible.


Resources to Explore Online DSP at Governors State University

PowerPoint presentation including rationale for DSP and screen shots of website

PowerPoint slides of flowchart for decision making from admissions to registration

Online orientation info sheet