Comparison of Five Online Directed Self-Placement Programs


When did you start placement online?

Daniel Webster College:  April/May 2006

Illinois State University:  June 2003

University of Colorado:  Spring 2002

Governors State University:  2003 spring/summer trimester

Seton 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.

University of Colorado:  Yes, but not sure what they were at this point.

Governors State University:  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.

Seton Hall University:  No


Who manages the website, the English Department or another entity?

Daniel Webster College:  The writing program director

Illinois State 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 the data. 

University 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.

Governors State University:  The 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 for classes.

Seton Hall University:  The director of basic skills in the English Department


How do students hear about DSP in the first place? 

Daniel Webster 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.

University 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.

Governors State 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?

Daniel Webster 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.

Illinois State University:  No.  (See above.)
University 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. 

Governors 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.

Seton Hall University:  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).

Illinois State University:  Not exactly.  See above

University of Colorado:  Yes 

Governors State 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.

Seton Hall University:  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?

Daniel Webster 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. 

University 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.

Governors State University:  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.

Seton 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.

How much switching between courses is there the first week of classes?

Daniel Webster College:  Not much.  I’d say 5 or 6 students out of over 150.
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.  

University of Colorado:  Virtually none

Governors State University:  Very 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.

Seton Hall University:  Very little, maybe 2 percent.


Were there any other challenges in setting up DSP?  

Daniel Webster College:  Yes.  It’s time-consuming learning and implementing all of the technology.

Illinois State 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. 

University 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 do

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. 

Governors State University:  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. 

Seton 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?

Daniel Webster 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.

Illinois State University:  The 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.

University 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.

Governors State 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.

Seton 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 writing course). 

Have you done any research into how successful students are compared to students placed under a previous system?  

Daniel Webster College:  I have not done research yet on this but plan to distribute surveys similar to 05-06 but with changes reflecting the online format.

Illinois State 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”). 

University of Colorado:  No, in the previous system, not many students were required to take a first-year writing course.

Governors State University:  No.  However, enrollment in supplemental (basic writing) courses has not declined.

Seton Hall University:  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 course selection? 

Daniel Webster College:  Students who selected the non-required developmental course did so because they were either ESL or because they were insecure about grammar.

Illinois State 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.)

University 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.

Governors 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? 

Daniel Webster College:  Basic writing carries 3 credits.  It is pass/fail, however.  The credits do count toward graduation.

Illinois State 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.

University 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.

Governors 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.

Seton 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.