by

Joyendu Bhadury

and

John Ten Eyck 


Joyendu Bhadury jbhadury@csuhayward.edu is an Associate Professor of Management and Finance at the School of Business and Economics, California State University - Hayward. He is also the Director of the Engineering program at CSUH. John Ten Eyck is one of his former students.


This paper summarizes the results of a study undertaken at California State University - Hayward, to profile the scheduling preferences of the students who take the Writing Skills Test (WST) and gauge their level of satisfaction with the current schedules. The variables studied included the Saturday preference of the students, class status, number of units taken this quarter, number of hours worked per week, gender, age, WST workshop attendance, commute time, and the convenience rating of the presently scheduled Saturday (after the third week of class) for the WST. The primary conclusion from the study is that student satisfaction with the current practice of scheduling the WST is not high. A further analysis of the data revealed a host of factors that determine the preference of a student and the fact that no single factor among them is predominant among all the students.

1. INTRODUCTION

Writing skills are essential in today's business environment. The ability to write clearly and concisely is equally important when communicating within the office as well as with customers. Business proposals, status reports, customer documentation, technical support, or even e-mail replies all depend on clear, written communication. The quality of a person's writing can determine success or failure of any endeavor, from proposing a new project to justifying a budget. "One of the most surprising features of the information revolution is that the momentum has turned back to the written word," says Hoyt Hudson, vice president of IS at InterAccess, an Internet service provider in Chicago. "Someone who can come up with precise communication has a real advantage in today's environment" (Jacobs, 1998).

While most people in the workforce or who are studying in order to break into the workforce, have focused their attention on learning computer skills, many of these same people lack writing skills. Jon Saxton, principal of Jon Saxton Communications, writes speeches, marketing materials, and entire scripts for training videos or presentations. "It is important to get across an idea powerfully and succinctly," says Saxton. He says, too, that "The level of incompetence in people's writing skills is astounding." He believes that college students today are not improving their writing skills enough because it is not required of them (Greely, 1998). In 1994, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants started evaluating candidates' writing skills in the CPA exam. Both practicing CPAs and accounting educators have gone on record that they believe the complexity of today's accounting, auditing and tax issues makes good writing skills essential to the profession, and that the CPA's ability to write is well worth verifying on the CPA exam (Menelaides, 1991).

With a view to the above, the California State University system requires all students to demonstrate writing competency at an advanced level in order to receive a baccalaureate or masters degree. The present method of satisfying the University Writing Skills Requirement is for undergraduates and graduates to take the Writing Skills Test (WST). Undergraduates must take the WST as soon as the junior level is attained, and graduate students who did not satisfy the requirement as an undergraduate must take the WST no later than their first quarter of attendance after achieving Conditionally Classified status. The administration of the WST at California State University - Hayward (CSUH) is governed by the office of Assessment and Testing, which, in turn, reports to the Office of Academic Affairs.

Scheduling is an important function in any educational setting. Schwab, Smith, and DiNitto found that scheduling was an important factor in client satisfaction and perceived quality in vocational rehabilitation (Schwab, Smith & DiNitto 1993). Student satisfaction is dependent on convenient scheduling of all educational activities, classes, as well as proficiency testing. Heuristic models have been developed that maximize customer/student satisfaction in the scheduling of classes (Sampson, Freeland, & Weiss, 1995). Furthermore, scheduling to maximize customer satisfaction for the Shad Valley Program at Canadian Universities has been automated by modeling it mathematically (Richards & Bhadury, 1996). It is interesting to note however, that despite the recent attention on "treating students as customers" and the emphasis on "student satisfaction", current research is divided as to whether this is a beneficial approach for education. On one hand, it is believed that any advantages of this approach are outweighed by any dissimilarities between commercial transactions and education (Schwartzman, 1995), and that treating students as customers is harmful to both students and society (Snare, 1997). On the other hand, a survey taken by the Council for Aid to Education showed that student satisfaction with the time they spent at a university has a direct bearing on these students becoming future alumni donors (Stutler & Calvario, 1996). Schwartzman does acknowledge that treating the students as customers can improve some aspects of higher education, namely those that provide specific services to students, e.g. Assessment and Testing.

Notwithstanding the educational debate about this subject, CSUH has conducted numerous studies about how and when to schedule classes. However, to the best of the authors' knowledge, there has been little research on what would be the optimum time in the quarter (or semester) to schedule proficiency tests such as the WST that would maximize student satisfaction. At CSUH, the WST is currently scheduled on a Saturday after the third week of class (From this point forward, WST/Saturday preference refers to the Saturday after this week of class). Assessment and Testing has been using this particular Saturday for the past two years. As has already been mentioned, little data has been published on the desirability of this time from the standpoint of the convenience of the students taking the test. As a first step towards addressing this issue, the study reported on in this article was performed in the Winter and Spring quarters of 1999 for the purpose of collecting and analyzing data regarding the preferences and profile of the students at CSUH that take the WST.

2. METHODOLOGY

2.1 Questionnaire Design

The following variables were measured in the questionnaire (See the Appendix for a copy of the questionnaire.): (i) studentís class status (Junior, Senior, Unclassified Graduate Student and Classified Graduate Student), (ii) number of units taken this quarter, number of hours worked per week, (iii) gender, (iv) age (v) attendance or non-attendance of WST workshop, (vi) one way commute time, (viii) convenience rating of the WST and, finally, (ix) the Saturday preference of the student. In addition, the last question of the survey asked the students to state the reason for their Saturday preference. The measurement methods used in the survey were a combination of nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio. The questions asked were as follows:

Question 1: Class status is an ordinal measurement that classifies the students from lowest to highest rank. The classifications are as follows: Junior (90-135 units taken), Senior (136+ units taken), Unclassified Graduate Student (Student not yet admitted to a master's degree program), and Classified Graduate Student (Student admitted to a specific master's degree program).

 

Question 2: Number of units taken (measured in 4 unit increments) is an ordinal measurement that ranks the number of units taken from lowest (0) to highest (16+).

 

Question 3: Number of hours worked per week (measured in 10-hour increments) is an ordinal measurement, which ranks the number of hours worked per week from lowest (0) to highest (40+).

 

Question 4: Gender is a nominal measurement and assigns a classification, male or female to the student.

 

Question 5: Age is a ratio measurement and is measured in years.

 

Question 6: Attendance of the WST workshop the previous Tuesday or Wednesday is a nominal measurement that identifies the student as having taken extra time to prepare for the WST.

 

Question 7: One way commute time (measured in 15-minute increments) is an ordinal measurement that ranks the commute time from shortest (0-15 minutes) to longest (Over 60 minutes).

 

Question 8: Convenience is an interval measurement. A Likert scale from 1 to 4 was used to measure the convenience of taking the WST at the present Saturday. Inconvenient was given a 1 and convenient assigned a 4. The units were of equal magnitude.

 

Question 9: Saturday preference is a nominal measurement that identifies the Saturday preference of the student. The choices include the Saturday after weeks 1-10, after Finals Week, and between quarters.

 

Question 10: The reason for a student's Saturday preference was an open-ended question. A nominal measurement was used to classify the reasons why the students chose their Saturday preference.

 

2.2 Hypotheses

The above measurements were used to used to examine the characteristics of the student population; find the Saturday preferences of this population; and test the following the following hypothesis. For each test, the significance level a was chosen to be 5%.

Hypothesis 1: Most of the students will prefer to take the WST between quarters and at the beginning of the quarter, with the number of students wanting to take the WST later in the quarter decreasing dramatically each week as the quarter progresses. A z-test for the equality between two proportions was performed to test this hypothesis.

 

Hypothesis 2: Gender had no effect on Saturday preference or convenience rating. A Chi-square test for independence was performed to test the hypothesis.

 

Hypothesis 3: There is a correlation between Saturday preference and class status, and grad students are more time conscious than undergraduates.

 

Hypothesis 4: There is a correlation between Saturday preference and number of units taken this quarter class status, and the more units a student takes, the earlier in the quarter the student will prefer to take the WST.

 

Hypothesis 5: There is a correlation between Saturday preference and number of hours worked per week, and the greater is the number of hours worked per week, the earlier in the quarter the student will prefer to take the WST.

 

Hypothesis 6: There is a correlation between Saturday preference and age, and the older the student is, the earlier in the quarter the student will prefer to take the WST.

 

Hypothesis 7: There is a correlation between Saturday preference and commute time, and the longer the commute is, the earlier in the quarter the student will prefer to take the WST.

 

Hypothesis 8: There is a correlation between Saturday preference and the convenience rating, and the greater is the difference in Saturday preference, the more inconvenient the currently scheduled Saturday is.

 

2.3 Sample

The population studied were students who took the WST on January 23, 1999. The questionnaire was given out randomly, and 216 samples were taken.

 

3. RESULTS

Figure 1

Saturday Preference Histogram percentage.

 

The Saturday preferences of the students sampled are shown in Figure 1. 41% of the students wanted to take the WST between quarters and 28% wanted to take it the Saturday after the first week of class. To compare if there were differences between the Saturday preferences of the students, a z-test for the equality between two proportions was used. When Between Quarters and the Saturday after the first week of class were compared, a z-statistic = 1.48 was found. At a significance level of 5%, leads us to conclude that there is no significant difference between the Between Quarters preference and the Saturday after the first week of class. While there was no significant difference found among the preferences Between Quarters and the Saturday after the first week of class, significant differences were found when Between Quarters was compared to the Saturday after the second, third, fourth week of class. The test-statistics for the tests were as follows:

Since no significant differences existed between the "Between Quarters preference" and the "Saturday after the first week of class preference," these two categories were combined into a single category, which was then compared to the Saturday after the second week of class combined with the remaining Saturdays and the Saturday after the third week of class combined with the remaining Saturdays. Significant differences were found with both tests. The test-statistics for these tests were as follows:

A Chi-square test for independence was performed to test if gender had an effect on Saturday preference and convenience rating. The c 2-statistic = 8.74 was found for Saturday preference, with the c 2-statistic = 3.258 for convenience rating. At a significance level of 5%, leads us to conclude that there is no significant difference between male and female respondents and their respective Saturday preference for taking the WST or their convenience rating.

Tables 1 through 8 (below) list the percentage and frequency of the variables that were measured. If applicable, the mean and median are included. Table 9 lists the percentage and frequency of the various reasons given by the students in answer to an open-ended question that asked why the student preferred a particular Saturday to take the WST. Thirty percent of the students who answered this question said that the reason they preferred a particular Saturday was that their school workload was light at that time. None of the other reasons given for a particular Saturday preference were given by over ten percent of the respondents.

To determine if there were differences between the various student responses to the open-ended question, a z-test for the equality between two proportions was used on the two responses that had the highest frequency. No significant difference found between the two responses, "Light workload at that time" and "More time to prepare for the WST." A z-statistic = 1.65 was found. At a significance level of five percent, this can be seen to be insignificant. This leads to the conclusion that no significant difference exists between any of the reasons given by the students in answer the open-ended question that asked why the student preferred a particular Saturday to take the WST.

Table 1, Question 1: 

Class status, results listed in percentage and frequency.

Class Status

%

Freq

Undergrads

76%

162

Grads

24%

50

Total

212

Table 2, Question 2: 

Units taken, results listed in percentage and frequency, with the median. Histogram percentage.

Number of Units Taken

 

%

Freq

0 Units

5%

10

1-4 Units

4%

8

5-8 Units

8%

17

9-12 Units

40%

85

13-16 Units

35%

75

Over 16 Units

9%

20

No response

0%

1

Total

215

Median

11.55

Units

Table 3, Question 3:

 Hours worked, results listed in percentage and frequency, with the median included Units taken, results listed in percentage and frequency, with the median. Histogram percentage.

Hours Worked

Per Week

 

%

 

Freq

0 Hours

20%

43

1-10 Hours

13%

28

11-20 Hours

23%

50

21-30 Hours

19%

41

31-40 Hours

12%

25

Over 40 Hours

12%

26

No response

3

Total

213

Median

17.38

Hours

Table 4, Question 4: 

Gender, results listed in percentage and frequency.

 

Gender

 

%

 

Freq

Male

34%

74

Female

66%

142

Total

216

Table 5, Question 5: 

Age, results listed in bin and frequency, with the median, mean, minimum

and maximum age included.

Age

Bin

Freq

21

11

 

 

 

 

Median: 25.13 Years

Mean: 28.03 Years

Min: 21 Years

Max: 70 Years

24.5

70

28

57

31.5

24

35

16

38.5

6

42

8

45.5

1

49

4

52.5

0

56

2

59.5

2

63

0

66.5

0

More

1

Table 6, Question 6:

 WST workshop attendance; results listed in percentage and frequency.

Attended WST Workshop

 

%

 

Freq

Yes

31%

66

No

69%

149

No Response

1

Total

215

Table 7, Question 7: 

Commute time, results listed in percentage and frequency, with the median.

Commute Time in Minutes

 

%

 

Freq

0-15

23%

50

16-30

34%

73

31-45

27%

57

46-60

10%

21

Over 60

6%

12

No Response

3

Total

213

Median

26.8

Minutes

Table 8, Question 8: 

Convenience rating, results listed in percentage and frequency, with median and mean.

Convenience

Rating

 

%

 

Freq

Very Inconvenient

25%

52

26%

55

26%

54

Convenient

24%

50

No response

5

Total

211

Median

1.96

Mean

2.48

Table 9, Question 10:

 Reason for Saturday preference (Why), results in percentage.

Code

Reason

%

Freq

1

Light workload at that time.

30.1%

50

2

Get it done before midterms.

7.8%

13

3

Too busy during quarter.

8.4%

14

4

More time to prepare for the WST.

9.0%

15

5

Saturday is inconvenient.

6.6%

11

6

Saturday is convenient.

7.2%

12

7

Adjusted or settled into schedule.

8.4%

14

8

Saturday is free, nothing to conflict with schedule

8.4%

14

9

Less stressful.

6.0%

10

10

Get the writing skills test out of the way.

3.0%

5

11

Other reasons.

1.8%

3

12

Midterms are over.

1.8%

3

13

Doesn't prevent registration.

0.6%

1

14

Get results of WST back.

0.6%

1

96

No preference

1.8%

3

99

No response.

56

Total

166

Table 10

 Correlation Matrix

STATUS

UNITS

TAKEN

HOURS

WORKED

GENDER

AGE

STATUS

 

-0.266

-0.039

-0.159

0.258

UNITS TAKEN

-0.266

 

-0.282

-0.095

-0.201

HOURSWORKED

-0.039

-0.282

 

-0.051

0.056

GENDER

-0.159

-0.095

-0.051

 

-0.071

AGE

0.258

-0.201

0.056

-0.071

 

WST WORKSHOP

-0.016

0.046

0.138

-0.171

0.061

COMMUTE TIME

0.005

-0.151

0.108

0.102

0.145

CONVENIENCE RATING

0.046

0.062

0.123

0.095

0.050

SATURDAY PREFERENCE

-0.014

-0.012

-0.059

-0.008

0.138

WST

WORKSHOP

COMMUTE

TIME

CONVENIENCE

RATING

SATURDAY

PREFERENCE

STATUS

-0.016

0.005

0.046

-0.014

 

UNITS TAKEN

0.046

-0.151

-0.062

-0.012

 

HOURSWORKED

0.138

0.108

0.123

-0.059

 

GENDER

-0.171

0.102

0.095

-0.008

 

AGE

0.061

0.145

0.050

0.138

 

WST WORKSHOP

 

0.055

-0.067

0.103

 

COMMUTE TIME

0.055

 

0.021

-0.062

 

CONVENIENCE RATING

-0.067

0.021

 

-0.151

 

SATURDAY PREFERENCE

0.103

-0.062

-0.151

 

 

 

The correlations between the different variables are listed in Table 10. There were no strong correlation between any of the variables that were tested.

3.1 Discussion

Since the sample used was a convenience sample, projecting the results beyond this specific sample should be done with caution. However, the results obtained from the sample do support Hypothesis 1. As shown in Figure 1, the Saturday preference with the highest percentage was that of "Between Quarters." The Saturday preference with the next highest percentage was the "Saturday after the first week of class." In addition, the number of students wanting to take the WST later in the quarter did decrease dramatically each week, with an insignificant number of students wanting to take the WST after the fourth week of class.

The WST is currently scheduled for the Saturday after the third week of class. A Likert scale of from 1 to 4 was used to measure the convenience of taking the WST at the present Saturday. Inconvenient was given a 1 and convenient assigned a 4. The mean of the students' convenience rating was 2.48. For the sample taken, it can be inferred that the students rated the currently scheduled Saturday as being moderately inconvenient.

As seen in the results, using a Chi-square test for independence reveals that there was no significant difference between male and female respondents in regard to their Saturday preference for taking the WST. In addition, there was almost no correlation (-0.008) between Saturday preference and gender. This supports Hypothesis 2: that gender had no effect on Saturday preference.

The variables measured in this study: the Saturday preference of the students, class status, number of units taken this quarter, number of hours worked per week, gender, age, WST workshop attendance, commute time, and convenience rating of the presently scheduled Saturday, were chosen because we assumed that these variables would relate to the total time the student spent in regards to taking the WST, the amount of time the student spent with school related activities during the week, and would influence the Saturday preference of the student. As can be seen in Table 9, there were no strong correlation between any of the variables tested. The highest correlation found was between units taken this quarter and hours worked (-0.282), followed by the correlation between units taken this quarter and class status (-0.266).

However, other conclusions about the student population at CSUH can be drawn from our study. For example, as would be expected, it can be inferred from the first correlation that the more units taken the fewer hours a student works. Furthermore,  the data indicates that graduate students take fewer units than do undergraduates. The third and fourth highest correlation was age and status (0.258) and age and units taken. This leads to the conclusion that older students have higher class status and take fewer units each quarter. The results obtained from the sample do not support Hypothesis 3 through 8. The highest correlation between Saturday preference and one of the other variables tested was that between Saturday preference and age (0.138). This leads to the conclusion that there is no one overriding factor that determines a student's Saturday preference. Many different reasons exist for a student's Saturday preference, and the interaction of the variables tested is different for each individual.

4. Conclusions and Recommendations

This paper summarizes the findings of a pilot study that was undertaken to find the scheduling preferences of students taking the WST at California State University - Hayward. Because it is a pilot study, one should be cautions about relying excessively upon the findings without a more detailed, extensive study. However, it is probably safe to conclude based on the results of this study that student satisfaction with the current scheduling pattern is not high. Hence, the University's office for Assessment and Testing should seriously consider an alternative schedule for this test. Based on this principal finding, the authors' primary recommendations are as follows:

Recommendation 1: Use the current study as a pilot study.

Recommendation 2: Refine the survey questions of the current survey. In addition to asking Saturday preference, take the top 8 reasons given by the students for the open-ended question, which asked the students to state the reason for their Saturday preference. Using a Likert scale, ask the respondent if she or he strongly agrees or disagrees with each of these reasons.

Recommendation 3: The ideal sample could be inexpensively collected as follows. Currently, when a student registers for the WST, the student is asked to submit the orange "Test Registration Form" (TRF) with a $25 dollar registration fee to the CSUH Cashier's Office. The questionnaire could be included with the TRF. The student would be required to fill out both forms prior to submitting them to the cashier's office. When the cashier's office gives the registration/questionnaire forms to Assessment and Testing, the questionnaires could be sorted from the registration forms. Either a random sample or a census could be taken from the completed survey forms. The most labor-intensive portion is the data entry and the subsequent statistical analysis. However, even this could be done inexpensively by offering a graduate student from Statistics or Management Science an independent study. The supervisory work can be done by the faculty responsible for guiding the student.

Recommendation 4: Change the currently scheduled Saturday if it differs from that preferred by the students. If the Saturday preference of the students happened to be "Between Quarters," it should be noted that it is not always feasible to schedule the WST at this time due to holidays and the varying length of this preference. Giving weight to the top Saturday preference and alternating the WST date between the top two or three student preferences, this problem could be easily overcome.


References

  1. California State University, Hayward. (1998). What is the university writing skills requirement? 1998-2000 University Catalog. 93, 357-358.
  2. California State University, Hayward. [Homepage: California State University, Hayward], (1998). CSUH assessment and testing. [On-line]. Available: http://www.csuhayward.edu/TEST/ [1999, January 19].
  3. Greeley, R. M. (1998, February 2). Good writing remains an essential career skill. Community Newspaper Company. [On-line]. Available: www. townonline.com /working /careers /020198p3.html. [1999, March 6].
  4. Jacobs, P. (1998, July 6). Strong writing skills essential for success, even in IT. InfoWorld Electric. [On-line]. Available: www.idg.net/idg_frames /english/content.cgi?vc=docid_9-64870.html. [1999, March 6].
  5. Menelaides, S. (1991, October). Writing skills: what they're looking for. Journal of Accountancy. [On-line], 172 n4 p39(1). Available: Information Access/Expanded Academic ASAP/A11391545/RN: A11391545 [1999, February 20].
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  7. Sampson, S. E., Freeland, J. R. & Weiss, E. N. (1995, May). Class scheduling to maximize participant satisfaction. Interfaces. [On -line], v25 n3 p30(12). Available: Information Access/Business Index ASAP/A17198572/RN: A17198572 [1999, February 20].
  8. Schwab, A. J., Smith T. W. & DiNitto, D. (1993, October). Client satisfaction and quality vocational rehabilitation. The Journal of Rehabilitation. [On-line], v59 n4 p17(7). Available: Information Access/ Expanded Academic ASAP/A16514144/RN: A16514144 [1999, February 20].
  9. Schwartzman, R. (1995, Winter). Are students customers? The metaphoric mismatch between management and education. Education. [On-line], v116 n2 p215(8). Available: Information Access/Expanded Academic ASAP/A18163715/RN: A18163715 [1999, February 20].
  10. Snare, C. E. (1997 Fall). Implications of considering students as consumers. College Teaching. [On-line], v45 n4 p122(1). Available: Information Access/ Expanded Academic ASAP/A20189221/RN: A20189221 [1999, February 20].
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Appendix - Questionnaire

I am conducting a survey for Mgmt. XXXX. The purpose of this survey is to determine which Saturday during/after the quarter the students would prefer to take the Writing Skills Test. I would appreciate it if you could complete this questionnaire before entering the testing area. For questions 1-9, please circle the appropriate answer or write your answer in the space provided. For question 10, please write a brief explanation in regards to your choice for question 9. Please do not sign this survey. All data will be analyzed in groups and not on an individual basis.

Thank you,

J. Ten Eyck


1. What is your class status?

 

Junior Senior Unclassified Graduate Conditionally Classified

Student Graduate Student

2. How many units are you taking this quarter?

 

0 Units 1-4 Units 5-8 Units 9-12 Units 13-16 Units Over 16 Units

 

3. How many hours a week do you work?

 

0 Hours 1-10 Hours 11-20 Hours 21-30 Hours 31-40 Hours Over 40 Hours

 

4. Gender: Male Female

5. What year were you born? ___________.

 

6. Did you attend the WST workshop the previous Tuesday or Wednesday?

 

Yes No

 

7. How long does it take you to commute (ONE WAY) to CSUH?

 

0-15 Minutes 16-30 Minutes 31-45 Minutes 46-60 Minutes Over 60 Minutes

 

8. On a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being Very Inconvenient and 4 being Convenient, rate the currently scheduled Saturday for the Writing Skills Test.

 

Very inconvenient Convenient

1 2 3 4

9. I would prefer to take the Writing Skills Test the Saturday ___________.

 

After the 1st After the 2nd After the 3rd After the 4th

week of class week of class week of class week of class

 

After the 5th After the 6th After the 7th After the 8th

week of class week of class week of class week of class

 

After the 9th After the 10th After the Final Between

week of class week of class week of class quarters

 

  1. Briefly, state why you prefer the Saturday chosen for Question 9 in the space below.