Comparison of Five
Online Directed Self-Placement Programs
When did you start placement online?
College: April/May 2006
University: June 2003
of Colorado: Spring
2003 spring/summer trimester
Hall University: 2005 (pilot), 2006 (full implementation)
Were there any models you used in thinking
about how to put DSP online?
Daniel Webster College: No
Illinois State University: No. We
were aware of no one else using online DSP at the time.
of Colorado: Yes,
but not sure what they were at this point.
There were no models available.
What made a difference was that the IT liaison took the time and effort
to discover our precise needs and develop a way to meet them.
Hall University: No
Who manages the website, the English
Department or another entity?
College: The writing program director
University: The DSP website is hosted and administered by
the Laboratory for Integrated Learning and Technology. That unit designed the website (with the
writing program administrators providing the content) and collects and stores
of Colorado: The
Academic Advising Center. However, the Writing Program manages the content and originally had
programming help from Arts & Sciences.
The admissions/orientation people handle the mailing. Team effort is needed.
Office of Student Development, a part of Student Affairs and Services, in
conjunction with IT. At this point, the only “management “ of this automated system
is working with students who are
admitted to GSU with little time to complete DSP so they can register
Hall University: The
director of basic skills in the English Department
How do students hear about DSP in the first
College: Through the initial letter sent in May—but
this year we may include a brochure.
Illinois State University: Students first hear about DSP in a mailing
from the admissions office. The mailing
instructs them to register for a campus visit and explains that the visit will
include not only an introduction to the university, but also course placement
and registration. On the first day of
that campus visit, students (and parents who are in attendance) are given
information about the two composition course options and told that they will be
placing themselves in the appropriate course using an online placement process. On the second day of the visit, students are
taken through the registration process in small groups. All registration is conducted online, and one
of the first steps of the process is directed self-placement. Students complete the DSP process and then
immediately begin registering for their courses.
of Colorado: They are notified in the packet of information they receive
after they accept a spot. Also, most advisors know about the site and can
direct students to it.
University: Students are informed of Online Orientation and DSP
in a letter in their admission packet. However, many of them do not attend to
it until they try to register for classes and find they have a “hold” so they
cannot register. They then complete OO/DSP and their hold is automatically
released the next day. Students who have difficulty using a computer or do not
have a computer at home are encouraged to come into our office to receive help
in completing the requirement. Fortunately, that occurrence is rare.
Seton Hall University: Students receive a packet in
late winter from the Dean of Freshman Studies informing them either that they
should take regular College English I (because of verbal SAT scores of 550 or
above) or that they should take the online DSP survey. The link is provided in the mailing.
Are there any problems in getting the
students to complete the online DSP process in a timely fashion?
College: About 50% of the
students completed it by deadline (in early July, to afford me time to hire
quality writing adjuncts). By New
Student Orientation at the end of August, about 30 students had not done the
online DSP; they were placed the conventional face-to-face way.
of Colorado: It's a very modest questionnaire, so it takes no more than
20-30 minutes (at most!) for students to complete. Also, the cut off date at
the end of May ensures that students must use the site before the deadline;
otherwise, they cannot access it and hence cannot pre-enroll for the course. The Academic Advising
Center holds a few slots
open after that. The Center insures
compliance, not the Writing Program.
They don’t have to think about who gets into the courses. Maybe 70% take
a required first-year writing course.
State University: They
must finish online orientation/DSP before they can register. There is a hold
that is automatically placed on them and automatically lifted within twelve hours
after they complete the online orientation/DSP. So compliance is 100%, and most
generally there is no problem unless a student is admitted to the university
very close to when classes begin.
Yes, but probably no more problems than we had getting students to take
the placement test in a timely fashion.
Some students don’t make decisions about where they will enroll until
late in the summer. The problem new to
online DSP, at least the way we do it, is that students whose placement we
question are required to have a conversation with a faculty member by phone or
e-mail before the placement is finalized.
At some point in mid-August last year, the English Department chair
simply had to place perhaps 10
percent of the students based upon a verbal SAT score
Do students wind up registering for an English
course as a direct part of the DSP process?
Daniel Webster College: Students select
their course but then meet with their advisor to actually register for their
preference (on the day before the semester starts).
University: Not exactly.
of Colorado: Yes
University: Some students do register
for an English course as a direct part of the DSP process. However, counseling
from their advisor is a key component of that process. Since DSP information is
available online to academic advisors, they can easily check that information
and discuss the student’s decision in their first course planning session. Some
advisors are more rigorous about this than others. As a result, we can see
enrollment in English and math courses is much higher in some programs than in
others. We have recently developed and Online Orientation/DSP advisory board to
work more closely with advisors.
No. The English Department
finalizes their placement in a database.
This allows the mentors in Freshman Studies to register students.
How, if at all, do students get advised
besides through the website?
College: They can contact me (the WPA) by email or
phone to further discuss the writing curriculum and their options. In future summers, the contact person may be
a Writing Center tutor or work study who is trained in the curriculum.
Illinois State University: As noted above, they are given information
about the course options in a meeting with academic advisors. Academic advisors are also available during
the process, although they do not intervene directly by choosing placements for
the students. Note: It is possible—even
likely—that some groups of students (honors students, athletes, and international
students, for example) receive additional—and different kinds of—advisement. This is because they participate in
variations of the campus visit.
of Colorado: Advisors in the various colleges SHOULD know about the
differences between courses, but this has been a bit tricky. As more colleges
add a first-year writing requirement, it's sometimes hard to tell if advisors
in these colleges really understand the differences between the courses and are
advising students properly. Whenever possible, we visit orientation sessions
where advisors are being updated on new policies and continue to
present/reinforce the descriptions of the three courses. Also, quite a bit of "informal"
advising goes on in the PWR
admin office--students call or come by to ask about the different courses. Word
of mouth also plays a part--students hear from previous students about the
differences between the courses.
Students get advised by a variety of professional or faculty people, depending
on the school they attend. Many of these
advisors do access the DSP data.
Hall University: As
mentioned in the link to the SHU online DSP program description, some students
are required to have conversations with one of three experienced English
Department faculty. Otherwise,
advisement is through the website.
much switching between courses is there the first week of classes?
much. I’d say 5 or 6 students out of
Illinois State University: None. Classes are too full for students to be able
to switch. If an instructor feels a student in English 101 needs the kind of
additional support s/he would receive in English 101.10 (the intensive version
of the course), the instructor offers the student an option of receiving
additional help through tutoring in the University Center
for Learning Assistance.
of Colorado: Virtually
little movement occurs between courses as a result of DSP. The larger plan includes
a required WIT (Writing, Information, and Technology) course for each program
to be taken the first term. However, since these courses have not yet been implemented,
there is no course for students to switch to. Therefore, students do not feel
pressure to take a supplemental course immediately, so they sometimes wait
until their second or even third term to register for the course.
Very little, maybe 2 percent.
Were there any other challenges in setting
College: Yes. It’s time-consuming learning and implementing all of the
University: Actually, when I look back on it, it seems
like the whole process went remarkably smoothly. Once we had initial buy-in from the Dean’s Office,
the Registrar’s Office, and so on, we were able to move forward in a really
expedient fashion. It did take a lot of coordination between various units, and
we had support from a number of other units, but we were lucky enough (or
diplomatic enough) to get the help we needed when we needed it and to get the
whole thing up and running in the course of a single academic year.
of Colorado: Challenges on first designing the system had to do with
programming. Importing info (e.g. TSOL
scores). Most of the challenges have to
with accommodating the exceptions (e.g. AP scores, special academic
programs, etc.). Also, there
are some problems communicating with the various schools so that they know
about DSP so they can advise students.
Developing the interfaces between online placement and online
registration. The toughest
challenge for Online Orientation/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.
Hall University: As
part of the online survey, we require students to write an essay based upon a
short reading and then reflect on that process.
Choosing the reading, trying to make the survey not too long, making
directions clear—these have all been a challenge. Also, some students get
kicked off the online survey after being on the survey too long with out any
activity. Since there are three advisors
responding to students, we haven’t always provided similar feedback to
students; the balance between providing our perspective and insisting on
students’ autonomy has been tricky.
What have the
advantages and disadvantages been?
College: Advantages: far
greater interaction with incoming students--students see themselves as
personally accountable for their writing performance and interaction with the
Writing Program. In a way, it resembles
the type of interaction I have with students through tutoring in the Writing Center.
Disadvantages: immensely time-consuming for the WPA or administrator of
the online DSP. I had to answer endless
emails over the summer—as well as take phone calls and look at individual
writing portfolios. This was the
flip-side of that personal dynamic: instead of leading one large group
discussion with 30 or so students (which I used to do; I had to lead about 6 of
those group discussions—about a three-hour time commitment). I ended up
spending sometimes as much as 30 minutes per
student for the more interactive ones.
Even the clerical matters of maintaining the online DSP site over the
summer and filing student requests (which came in hour by hour) was
time-consuming. Students appeared unsure of the online format, and they
repeatedly sought a second confirmation that their selection had been processed—even
though an automatic message was sent to each student confirming their selection
after they had made it.
advantages have been that all students get exactly the same experience (there's
no variation among different folks presenting information about FYC in
different ways), using online DSP frees up the Writing Program staff for other
work during the summer (we don't have to be giving presentations to students),
and we have easily accessible data already in Excel—to be used for assessment
of DSP, etc. It benefits students
because they get first dibs on class slots and get preferred schedules. I'm not aware of any disadvantages so
far. It may be less personal than having
someone meet directly with small groups of students.
of Colorado: There is the practical advantage that a majority of
students can use the site and have a fairly good understanding of what's
offered and can then make an informed choice about which course they want to
take. This leaves a much smaller number of students who need individual,
one-on-one help in choosing a course. The
Writing Program director sees DSP as an advising tool itself. It is an important means for presenting your program
to incoming students and for describing your curriculum.
University: At first, student reviews
were enthusiastic about the change.
However, as student memory of the old proficiency system faded, their
enthusiasm toward Online Orientation/DSP waned, but certainly OO/DSP is
generally well accepted. In fact, the student evaluation section at the end of
OO/DSP remains favorable. One reason for
implementing DSP was to place responsibility for student learning in the hands
of the professors. That is, students who do not write competently should be
penalized in their program by receiving poor grades on papers. This feedback
should encourage students to take a writing course or at least come to the Writing Center. While most professors do grade
honestly, some let the student slide.
The previously mentioned WIT course should ameliorate this problem. Of course, the advantage to DSP is the same;
responsibility for evaluating student performance does belong with the
professor. Students respect teacher authority far more than the Office of
Student Development, which does not give grades.
Hall University: The
students in the 6-credit intensive version of College English seem to hit the
ground running. There is little initial
resistance to overcome (other than that of having any required first-year
you done any research into how successful students are compared to students
placed under a previous system?
College: I have not done research yet on this but plan
to distribute surveys similar to 05-06 but with changes reflecting the online
University: Yes. We still have mostly raw data, but it is
clear that students are no LESS successful, and it appears that they may, in
fact, be MORE successful (when “success” is defined as “earning a C or better
in the course”).
of Colorado: No, in the previous system, not many students were required
to take a first-year writing course.
State University: No. However, enrollment in supplemental (basic
writing) courses has not declined.
Yes. See discussion on main page
for this McGraw-Hill module. I have much
more analysis that I can make available upon request.
What reasons do students give for their
College: Students who
selected the non-required developmental course did so because they were either
ESL or because they were insecure about grammar.
University: Prior experience (40%
give explicit reference to high school), perception of self as a writer,
comfort level (with writing), ACT scores, course descriptions, feelings about
subject/discipline, time spent in class, perceived course difficulty level,
future plans, work habits, advice from others (parents, teachers, advisors,
siblings), class rank, program requirements (honors, connections, etc.)
of Colorado: Reasons vary. Last I
heard, we had about 65% opt for the mainline course,
18% for the advanced, and 17% for the extended (4 credit hour) course.
State University: Students who have difficulty with writing and
math know it. DSP forces them to seriously consider the problem even if
reluctantly. The additional boost from their advisor frequently convinces them
that it is time to face the problem. On the other hand, many students decide to
take their chances and try to slide through the program without attending to
the problem. As mentioned above, some of them succeed.
Seton Hall University: In order from most to least
important reason for self-placement: the
ability to do well in college, writing ability, concern about doing well in a
new situation, reading ability, the advice of parents, conversation with a
writing program director, influence of friends.
How many credit hours does the basic writing
option carry? Do those credits count toward graduation?
College: Basic writing carries 3 credits. It is pass/fail, however. The credits do count toward graduation.
University: Ours is not a
"basic writing" option. We identify it as a
"intensive" version of our regular FYC. The differences are that students attend
class 5 days/week instead of 2 or 3 days/week.
But they also have smaller classes and additional instructional support
available in the classroom. Both 101 (regular FYC) and 101.10 (intensive FYC) offer 3 hours of
credit to those who successfully complete.
of Colorado: All three options count toward graduation, and all 3
meeting core/gen ed
requirements. So, it is low-stakes
placement. The extended course is 4
credit hours (regular classes plus extra group meetings); the other two
are 3 credits.
State University: The
English course is three hours of credit. In most programs, these hours count
toward graduation as an elective. However, some programs do not count the hours
so the course is, in effect, zero hours of credit.
Hall University: Basic
writing students take a 6-credit course, 3 of which count toward graduation and
3 of which, graded pass/fail, do not.