OF EDUCATION: THE UNDERGRADUATE CASE*
A year ago in these pages, Mendoza and Bulcock (1990) reported the findings of their inquiry into the academic standards of undergraduate students in the Faculty of Education. They were able to demonstrate the falsity of some prevailing myths about the calibre of students entering the teaching profession compared to graduates in other faculties and schools at Memorial University. Their research, based on the academic performance of the 1987 Memorial University graduates, showed that Faculty of Education graduates, major for major, generally performed as well as, and in most cases better than, the graduates in other faculties and professional schools. In fact, the only exceptions were history and French majors.
The present study continues this tradition; but instead
of comparing academic standards, it compares program quality and the quality
of student life. And instead of comparing Faculty of Education students
with their counterparts in other faculties and schools, it compares Faculty
of Education students at Memorial University with Faculty of Education
students at another large Provincial University. The study, therefore,
has two explicit purposes: first, to describe the perceptions that Faculty
of Education undergraduate students have of the quality of their programs;
and, second, to describe Faculty of Education students' perceptions of
the quality of their student lives.
Some Background Information
The Instrument. In 1986, a Committee was appointed at a large provincial university in Canada to review the Faculty of Education. This university will be referred to as the University of X (U of X). Coincidentally, a few months later, a review committee was appointed at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) for the same purpose. While the terms of reference of the two committees were different, each commissioned special report dealing with student affairs. At the U of X a study was mounted dealing with the quality of life in the Faculty of Education. The U of X Sub-committee on students prepared a questionnaire, and two sections of this questionnaire were selected for administration in MUN's Faculty of Education by the senior authors of this paper. The usual back ground information – mostly demographic in nature – was included, along with sections on student experiences of their education program, and on student perceptions the quality of their university lives in the Faculty. Because questions of the MUN questionnaire were the same as those on the U of X questionnaire, direct comparisons between the findings were possible.
The Samples. The researchers of the U of X went to considerable trouble to obtain a probability sample - using a stratified random cluster procedure - of all undergraduate students in education. About 27 percent of the student body in each year of the teacher education program were selected. The Dean contacted the professors who taught these students, requesting their permission to allow the students to complete the questionnaire in class time. Some 308 out of 397 questionnaires were completed at the U of X for a return rate of 78 percent. Twenty-one percent of the undergraduate student body in education participated.
The MUN researchers were far more cavalier in their approach.
In the Winter Semester (January through April) of the 1988/89 academic
year, they surveyed 11 classrooms of students taking undergraduate education
courses. Completed questionnaires were received from 193 undergraduate
students. While the MUN sample can be best described as a convenience
sample It included 15.5 percent of the full-time teacher education students.
Some Characteristics of the Two Samples. Information about the two samples is contained in Tables 1 and 2. From Table 1 we learn that while the MUN sample was younger, from Table 2 we note that a higher percentage of MUN students had degrees than those at the U of X. Twenty-seven percent of the U of X sample had degrees compared to 38 percent of the MUN sample. We also note that male students seem to be under-represented in the MUN sample - a finding which is congruent with the fact that a majority of the MUN students were registered in primary and elementary programs, and that most students in these program were female.
The background characteristics of the two samples are remarkably similar. The U of X parents may be slightly better educated but there is very little difference in the distribution of father's occupational statuses. There are more parents from farm backgrounds in the U of X sample and more fathers who are skilled craftsmen in the Newfoundland sample, but these are minor differences. Student teachers in both universities are recruited from the entire range of socioeconomic statuses. The major difference between the two universities was in regard to the students' linguistic and ethnic origins. While 95 percent of the MUN students reported coming from an English background, only 39 percent of students at the U of X reported coming from a similar background.
Program Quality. It can be stated unequivocally at the outset that the Memorial University students reported more favourable perceptions of the quality of their Faculty of Education programs. Out of thirty Items designed to measure the dimensions of program quality the MUN students reported more favourable responses than the U of X on twenty-two of them. It is unlikely that this more favourable opinion had anything to do with differences in English background; therefore, this was not Investigated.
Table 1. Characteristics of the Undergraduate Samples
Table 2. Program of Studies
NA = Not available
Instructional programs, both in schools and colleges, maybe classified in terms of goals and objectives. One such classification scheme - the one used by the U of X Sub-committee on students – was devised by Bloom and Krathwahl (1956). It has stood the test of time and thirty-four years later is still highly regarded. Their "Taxonomy" classified instructional objectives under three headings: the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Here, we are concerned with the first two.
In the cognitive area six domains are recognized: Knowledge,
comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
The ordering is intended to be from the lowest to the highest level of
The U of X Committee constructed empirical indicators of the eight domains. The distractors to each indicator were labelled as follows: Definitely Agree, Mostly Agree, Neutral, Mostly Disagree, and Definitely Disagree. For reporting purposes the first two distractors and the last two were combined as "Agree" and "Disagree" respectively. Information on the neutral category is not included in the following tables. The findings on program quality are reported in Table 3.
As already noted, the MUN students were generally more favourable towards program quality than U of X students. On all the Knowledge and Synthesis items, and the majority of the Comprehension and Application items, MUN students responded more favourably than the U of X students. In particular, on items such as "to communicate clearly the subject matter I plan to teach", "to present lessons in a systematic manner", and "to synthesize various perspectives in the subject I wish to teach", the MUN percentages were over 15 percent higher than those of the U of X. The percentages also imply areas of satisfaction with the program. However, there are certain observations worth noting. On all the Analysis items the U of X students responded more favourably than those at MUN. While the percentage differences were small, this was true for all three items. A similar result applies to 3 of the 4 Evaluation items, with the percentages being greater than on the Analysis items. Of particular concern is that while both groups had a relatively large percentage of students who did not feel that they had learned "to use a variety of ways to maintain classroom discipline", the percentage of students who were satisfied was considerably higher at the U of X than MUN.
There are two other items of significance. The last two items in Table 3 are concerned with the "value of the Faculty of Education" and satisfaction "with my program in the Faculty of Education". In terms of the value of the Faculty of Education the ranking for the U of X students is 30th out of 30 items and for MUN students 27th out of 30. In overall satisfaction the situation is better for MUN students (20th out of 30), but it has not improved for the U of X. Although it can be argued that just in excess of 50 percent of MUN students were satisfied, the generally low percentages agreeing with these items and the relatively high percentages disagreeing is of concern. MUN does better than U of X, but both have unsatisfactory levels of value and satisfaction.
The Quality of Student Life. In addition to the cognitive domain discussed above, the present researchers were interested in students' perceptions of the quality of their university lives. This calls for an analysis of the affective domain. For Bloom and Krathwahl (1956) the affective domain concerns attitudes, interests, and values. In the past two decades a good deal of interest was shown by sociologists in the measurements of indicators of well-being, or the perceived quality of life. The most influential seminal work was by Bradburn and Caplovitz (1969). More recent research is referenced in Campbell et. al. (1976) and Campbell (1981), and reviewed by Schuessler and Fisher (1985). The Bradburn and Caplovitz (1969) work was replicated in studies by Cherlin and Reeder (1975) and, again, by Burt et. al. (I978).
The Sub-committee on students at the U of X, however, used the theoretical framework developed by Australian researchers Williams and Batten (1981) for the purpose of measuring the quality of student life. Williams argues that societal expectations for schooling minimally call for the certification of competence, the transmission of knowledge, the socialization of students, and the promotion of social responsibility. Thus, schools and colleges establish evaluation, instructional, socializing, and disciplinary systems which are experienced by students in different ways. Williams found, for example, that the evaluation/certification system was experienced by the more committed students as an opportunity to learn; the socializing system as promotive of identity formation; and the social responsibility function of schooling as status enhancing. He also identified an instructional system which provoked a range of responses toward teachers. When these experiences the
Table 3. Perceived Quality of Undergraduate
opportunity to learn, identify formation, status acquisition, and perception of teachers - were positive, students were found to rate their school lives as highly satisfactory. When the experiences were negative, students tended to be dissatisfied. Williams, like other researchers in the quality of life tradition, was arguing that while there may be good reasons for studying the objective features of people's lives - gender, social status, age, etc. - and how they affect behaviour, more complete explanations largely depend on an understanding of how people perceive their world. In this study, the "wood" is that of the undergraduate student in the Faculty of Education.
Given the orientation suggested by Williams, the researchers of the U of X set about measuring student responses to their environment in terms of status, identity, teachers, and opportunity; and students' feelings of well-being as a response, in turn, to these experiences. Again, following Williams, they described well-being in terms of two dimensions - satisfaction with schooling and dissatisfaction with schooling. In the quality of life literature these dimensions are referred to as general affect and negative affect respectively. In sum, then, the quality of student life concept is captured by four domains of schooling and two dimensions of student well-being. The empirical indicators of these six constructs, and the responses to them by the students at both universities, are reported in Table 4.
It is evident from Table 4 that the MUN undergraduates report a higher quality of student life (QSL) in the Faculty of Education than the U of X undergraduates. Out of 40 QSL items in Table 4, MUN students report more favourable standings on 33 of them. On the satisfaction, status, identity, and opportunity items, the Newfoundland students were overwhelmingly more positively inclined than students from the province of X. There was little difference between the two faculties of education, however, in regard to professors. Less than half the Newfoundland sample believed that their professors took a personal interest in student work; and less than half believed that professors helped students to do their best.
Table 4. Quality of Student Life in the Faculty of Education
Although MUN students were ahead of their U of X counterparts
in terms of status, it was still obvious that in both universities the
students felt that their efforts and abilities were not appreciated.
Only 19 percent (17 percent of the U of X) reported that in the Faculty
of Education, people looked up to them; and only about 25 percent of the
students at either university believed that people in their faculty thought
a lot of them. This implies that many students are alienated; that
university life in Faculties of Education is too impersonal; that there
are too few opportunities for professors and students to interact.
This study had two purposes: to evaluate the quality of teacher education programs; and to evaluate the quality of student life in two Faculties of Education, at two large provincial universities. The evaluation was conducted from the undergraduate student's perspective. The chief assumption underlying the study was that in the effective Faculty of Education, students would rate both the quality of their programs and the quality of their student lives in favourable terms.
No doubt it will be gratifying to Newfoundland readers to know
that Memorial University's education students gave their faculty higher
ratings than did the students at the U of X; and that these comparatively
high ratings were in two areas – programs and student life. Be that
as it may, however, the MUN students identified several areas of concern.
These will be taken up in the following order – program concerns, faculty
member concerns, and student status concerns.
First, MUN students expressed reservations regarding the amount they were learning about subjects they were planning to teach. It can be argued that teaching the content is not a function of the Faculty of Education. Whether one accepts or rejects this view, it is of concern that students enter the profession feeling that they do not have adequate subject knowledge. There are many routes to rectification, through upgrading the academic component, building a greater emphasis on the subject content within the methodology courses, and in-service. It is not the purpose of this paper to suggest which, if any, of these routes is desirable. However, if our future teachers feel inadequately prepared academically, the issue must be addressed.
Second, similar concerns were expressed regarding the ability to write, and the same arguments apply to potential solutions and the fact that the issue must be addressed.
Third, there are concerns with the area of evaluation. In both the evaluation of social-emotional performance of students and the evaluation of various theoretical perspectives on education under 50 percent agree that they have learned how to do this. In the case of social-emotional performance over 25 percent say they have not learned this skill. For the evaluation of theoretical perspectives only 11 percent say they have not learned this skill, but this leaves half the group neutral on the issue.
In concluding this section on program concerns let us stress that,
as indicated earlier, there were areas of satisfaction with the program.
It is not our purpose here to downgrade the significance of these areas.
However, the issues that were causing concern, such as knowledge of subject
matter, discipline, and evaluation of theoretical perspectives are significant
for future teachers. By focusing on them we hope that the profession
will address the issues and attempt to find solutions.
Faculty Member Concerns
Apparently, MUN education professors are perceived in much the
same way by MUN students as U of X professors are perceived by U of X students.
There are two perspectives on the information given by the MUN students.
In many cases over 60 percent appear to be satisfied and the lowest result
is 46 percent in the case of "personal interest in helping me with my work".
Also, the percentages actually stating that they disagree were no higher
than 21 percent, and as low as 10 percent. These results could be
interpreted as showing that the "majority" of students were happy.
However, we would argue that the figures are, in fact, disturbing.
They show that on most of the measures approximately 40 percent or more
(2 out of 5 students) were not satisfied. These are our future teachers.
The attributes listed in this section would be considered very important
for future teachers. Apparently a very significant minority, and
in some cases, majority, do not see these attributes in their professors.
If we, as a teacher training profession, are not perceived as the role
models for these attributes by a large number of students, it should be
of concern. While the overall satisfaction percentages on the various
Items is in the region of 45-60 percent, the very large percentages of
students who are not satisfied is alarming and should be of serious concern.
Student Status Concerns
Given the above findings about students' perceptions of their professors, it should come as no surprise to find that students give themselves low ratings in terms of their status as students. Status is a reflection of people's treatment by others. In university settings one would hope that the student would acquire a commitment to the faculty or school and would learn to identify with professors as their role models. At Memorial, the students point out that people do not look up to them or think a lot of them. Only 39 percent feel important and, in fact, only 49 percent feel proud to be students. Overall, these results show that a significant number of education students have low self-esteem. As with other findings, this is disturbing and must be addressed by the education establishment at Memorial.
Bloom, B.S., and Krathwahl, D. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: David McKay.
Bradburn, N.M., and Caplovitz, D. (1969). The structure of psychological well-being. Chicago: Aldine.
Burt, R.S., Wiley, J.A., Minor, M.J., and Murray, J.R. (1978). Structure of well-being: Form, content, and stability over time. Sociological Methods and Research, 6, pp. 365-407.
Campbell, A. (1981). The sense of well-being in America: Recent patterns and trends. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Campbell, A., Converse, P.E., and Rodgers, W.L. (1976). The quality of American life. New York: Russell Sage.
Cherlin, A., and Reeder, L.G. (1975). The discussions of psychological well-being: A critical review. Sociological Methods and Research, 4, 198-214,
Mendoza, L.P., and Bulcock, J.W. (1990). The academic standing of education students at Memorial University. The Morning Watch, 17, 6-20.
Schuessler, K.F., and Fisher, G.A. (1985). Quality of life research and sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 11, pp. 129-149.
Williams, J., and Batten, M. (1981). The quality of school
life. Hawthorn, Victoria: The Australian Council for Educational
*Acknowledgments. Funding for this project was received from the
VicePresident (Academic) Research Committee, Memorial University.
Supplemental funding was received from the Office of the Dean, Faculty
of Education. The Department of Employment and Immigration, Canada,
sponsors of the Challenge '89 Program, supported the appointments of Robert
Thanks are extended to the 193 undergraduate program students in the
Faculty of Education who conscientiously and with commendable candour answered
a lengthy "Student Life" questionnaire in the Winter Semester of the 1988/89
academic year. Thanks also go to the eleven faculty members who permitted
students to complete the questionnaire during class time. When we
ran out of funds to complete the project, Dr. Leslie Karagianis, Dean of
Education, came to our rescue. Jackie Pitcher-March, Institute for
Educational Research and Development, typed the manuscript. Finally,
a special thanks to the Sub-committee on students at the University of
X who shared both their ideas and data with US.