Intellectual Challenge Survey

I conducted an informal, anonymous survey on “intellectual challenge” with students in my classes (n = 32). The respondents were mostly Communication minors and Zicklin majors; i.e., represent somewhat of a cross-section of Baruch students. (I checked with Hannah Rothstein, IRB director: Informal surveys with the purpose of program improvement can be conducted without IRB approval and shared with colleagues, including on this teaching blog). Here are the results.

Question 1: On average, how intellectually challenging are courses at Baruch College? (5 = very challenging; 1 = not challenging at all)

Question 2: On average, how satisfied are you with this level of intellectual challenge?

Question 3: What does “intellectual challenge” mean to you?

Question 4: Which wording would you prefer on the course evaluation form?

Selected Comments:

1. Since English is my second language, courses are very challenging for me.

2. The courses at Baruch College are very challenging. The time frame in which professors needed assignments are not enough, due to the fact that we, the students, have other classes.

3. Although some professors manage to make course work challenging, they still keep students interested.

4. i believe the “intellectual challenge” is subjective to the instructor teaching the course. In some cases they do present a real challenge; on the other hand, some are as easy as it can get!!!

5. I’m glad to see this kind of survey. Most Baruch courses are definitely lacking on the stimulating side. Sometimes it feels like a waste of time–even if the course content seemed promising. Professors seem to be dumbing down a great deal.

6. Some of the courses are stimulating, but for the most part it is professors teaching to get a paycheck (a small one at that) and students participating to get a grade, but there does not seem to be a high level of engagement from either students or instructors.

7. In my experience at Baruch College, the majority of the courses are intellectually stimulating and enforce learning. However, there are some courses that are too difficult, and the work load should be lightened (i.e. Calculus).

8. I love Baruch–their educators, the academics, the social environment, the diversity. I am so proud to be a graduate of Baruch.

Conclusion: Students seem to feel reasonably challenged and find the level of challenge appropriate (Questions 1 and 2). When it comes to the definition of “intellectual challenge,” however, the picture gets somewhat confusing. Some see challenge as stimulation, and others see it as stressful and not essential for learning. (Question 3). The comments echo the confusion: Variably, challenge is seen as coming from lack of language proficiency or lack of time (rather than intellectual difficulty), or defined as positive (related to stimulation and engagement), or negative (likely to reduce interest, not enforcing learning).

Should the last item on the Baruch evaluation form be changed to something less fraught with conflicting interpretations . . . for example, “The course stimulated me intellectually”?

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One Response to Intellectual Challenge Survey

  1. Thank you for this, Elisabeth. No matter how hard we try, our surveys and evaluations seem always to get tripped up by semantics. Hmmm? Maybe that’s why I’m an ethnographer.

    But your data do seem to shatter a smug assumption on my part. Some years ago, after attending a play about a couple of college profs who had little or nothing good to say about their students, I found myself wondering why I hold mine in such high regard. It came to me that perhaps I don’t expect enough of them, which would mean that they habitually exceed my expectations. How could I test this, I wondered. The next day I made up a very simple survey:

    ____Is this class too easy?
    ____Is this class just about right?
    ____Is this class too hard?

    Between two sections, about 75 students, there were two students who said they found the class too easy; none who said it was too hard; the rest said it was just about right. Aha, I said, I manage to keep everybody interested and learning. What a splendid teacher I am!, I thought to myself.

    But after looking at Elisabeth’s data from questions 1 and 2, I can see that Baruch students in general seem to be of the Goldilocks persuasion, that is, most find their courses “just right.” It’s not me, it’s our students. Well, at least I can console myself by noting that I’m above average—the academic’s perpetual Lake Wobegon refuge.

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