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Arts Student Focus Group Responses

On January 25, 2011, I had the pleasure of convening a Faculty of Arts Student Focus Group, a key component of our current Arts planning exercise. The group sessions were facilitated (with results transcribed) by Emily Hope, Bonnie Klohn, and Dani Kohorst. In brief, the Focus Group drew attention to some feelings of loneliness experienced by first-year students, the desire for a cohort approach (echoing that of other areas on campus), the need to connect, the wish for what the students called “the Kapow Factor,” the maintenance of small classes, greater connection of classes to “real world” experiences, the promotion of student clubs and conferences, more faculty engagement in student-run activities, more seminars, and the need for more showcasing of student and faculty work. The students praised the faculty, citing many examples of teaching excellence.

Here are the students’ verbatim comments:

How would you characterize your experience at TRU – in Arts in particular?

– sort of lonely

– good; lots of other people; popular program

– really good; glad to be here; witnessed a lot of change

– not great, but not bad – not a lot of courses that I’m interested in, some teacher conflicts

– Memorable

– Involved

– Close-knit

– Personal

– Accessible

– One-on-one

– Motivating

– More pleasurable as time goes on

– Conflicted-

  • geography not in sciences
  • Gender studies not offered

What would improve the first-year experience for students? The second- third- and fourth-year experiences?

– education program has cohorts of 25, which makes it easier to meet people: this is lacking in other programs; comforting to be in a group of people that move from class to class together; makes group work easier; eases loneliness

– need some way to connect with other 1st years

– an upbeat and exciting class that gives you a taste of the different disciplines

– need to add “KAPOW” to 1st year classes

– students’ intrinsic motivation is being killed by dull classes

– too hard to see an advisor: long lines to get in to see them, and then they aren’t very helpful

– an introductory course that explains how everything works, helps you map out your next few years: “intro to university”

– eliminate the attitude: “Cs and Ds get the same degrees”

– ease the transition from high school to university

– there’s a feeling that you’re just a number in the classroom

– Smaller class sizes 1st and 2nd year are too big

  • Knowing profs is reason to stay

– More advertising for real world experience like co-op

– Profs encourage programs

– Write more in the Omega about programs

– Most classes too generalized

– Broad overview courses don’t allow disciplinary exploration

– In English: more courses should be focused on biography

  • Engaging in different writing styles

– In geography: offer more classes that are focused

– Special topics courses should be offered in lower levels

  • They are more relevant
  • More interesting
  • Better way to grab people
  • Better way to learn about disciplines

– In Philosophy: critical thinking should be in 2nd year

  • Don’t throw students into logic

What would help you achieve greater success in the classroom?

– More support

– More guidelines & mapping out of your 1st year

– being directed to the website to find information is frustrating and unhelpful – instructors or advisors should take the time to answer the students’ questions

– Introduction course to explain how everything works

– More teacher-student interaction

– More seminars about what you can do with your degree

– Smaller classrooms

– Greater interest in the topic

– Seminar style classes

– Professors who welcome/encourage interaction in the classroom

– In class lectures – not straight out of the textbook (we can read our textbooks at home by ourselves)

– Knowing that our degree will equal employment in our field of study

– No heroes ads in classrooms

– Verbal moral code needs to be better respected (comment debated)

– Two hour classes are most effective

– Three hours are a waste of time

What events, activities, and initiatives would help you feel more connected to the Arts at TRU? What could we improve to get students more involved?

– One class in a group/cohort in your first year: this will engender more engagement and community-building and club joining

– The more people you know, the more fun it gets

– Mandatory classes make an easy area for the cohort model: e.g., ENG 1100 & 1110

– Overall “taste of the arts” class and “intro to university” class

– A connection between faculty and clubs (more emphasis on clubs from profs)

– Promotion of clubs in the classroom

– Organize and participate in PHP conference

– Advertising the money (CUEF, etc.) available to students in first and second year so students know what’s available to them.

– “What type of funding is out there?

– Initiate more student focus groups

– student organized conferences

– student run clubs

  • maybe organized through the faculty

– Greater interaction and integration

  • Interdisciplinary engagement

– Create a Student Arts Association

– Put photos of the Arts grads in AE

– Change displays in the cabinets in the AE halls (or get the new “Student Arts Association to do it)

– Have a professor of the week showcased in the halls

– Showcase student work in the halls

– Observatory in IB needs to be opened up: we don’t use it enough

  • Application in many disciplines
  • Try to find a solution for the light pollution from TCC

How can the Arts help students become more involved in their community?

– Depends on the personality of the individual – hard to define

– Cohort model would increase self-confidence, and therefore increase student engagement with their community

– Pushing students to become too involved too early can be overwhelming

– Emphasis on the professors’ responsibility to ‘lead the way’ in terms of community involvement.

– More opportunities provided by professors.

– Course/course material more directed to Kamloops (local material)

– Fieldtrips

– Community mentoring programs – professionals could mentor Arts students

– Personal selection process by profs for committees/ volunteer/ events

– Reach high school student: educate them on disciplines

  • Guest seminars in high schools

– More engagement in 1st year

– High school field trips here

– In sociology: more community oriented

How should the Faculty of Arts distinguish itself so that students and other stakeholders can readily identify what the Faculty of Arts at TRU does differently and/or better than Arts faculties at other universities?

– When courses aren’t offered, TRU recognizes the problem and provides directed studies

– Large amount of willingness to support Directed studies

– Emphasize connection with profs

– Smaller classes equals more networking

– Grad school becomes more accessible

– Excellent reference letters–more personal and reflect a student’s individual skills

– Reasonable tuition

– Small class size

– High teacher-student interaction: get taught by your professor, not a T.A.

– Small city is appealing – Kamloops itself acts as a draw

– Combat the widely held belief that the Arts are second class: take it if you don’t know what else to take “What are you going to do with a B.A.?”

– PHP conference a good model

– Create an Arts Students Innovation Conference specific to Arts

– Market the approachability of profs

– Have profs push students to present at conferences

  • Market student conference involvement

– The name of the undergrad conference is not discipline specific

– Use fine arts and pop art in advertising

– Tap into the mindset of prospective students. They are:

  • Technologically advanced
  • Looking for cutting edge education
    • Show this with presentations by our TRU profs

– Need to have profs push student conference involvement

– Faculty need to be involved in order to have student conferences

– In general, would like to see faculty getting involved in student-run events and have personal encouragement

– TRU is accessible: It is growing but has a small town feel

– Conferences make education part of social life

  • Invested in learning
  • Presentations good form of learning

Why, in your view, do students leave TRU—either dropping out or transferring elsewhere?

– Students transfer to larger institutions because they are perceived to have better reputations and will get you better recognition

– Better options for classes & programs at other institutions

– Unable to take the programs they want here: e.g., major in Political Science

– Not enough courses, classes, and programs

– Not enough in general

– Prestige of other universities

– The dean needs to provide more classes so that less people leave – this leads to more upper level students, which leads to more money

– Summer school needs improvement (not enough offered)

– “If you build it they will come”

Not enough options

– Majors we are looking for:

  • Poli sci
  • Anthropology: no minor either
  • Gender Studies: No minor either
  • Community planning
  • Urban geography

– Lack of scope in English

– Lack of focused courses

– No direction. We need to advertise what to do with a degree in Arts

– Need positive feedback from profs

– Encouraging new ideas

– Faculty meet and greets

– Classes are boring–more special topics in 1st year

  • This ties into the “cutting edge education” prospective students are looking for

– Classes need to have personal application, fun

  • Ex. Profs lectures on beer at the noble pig during the PHP

– Manage poster boards for better communication

– Students drop out because of money

– Give more incentives. Don’t have to be monetary:

  • Achievement awards
  • Acknowledgement
  • Accolades of profs
  • Showcasing pieces of work

– Encourage lighter course loads

Why do students complete their degrees at TRU?

– Connections with their professors

– The community

– Better chances for scholarships and reference letters: small school & profs who know you

– It is cheap (tuition) compared to coastal schools or back east

– *Note for consideration: Cost of living is going up in Kamloops and it’s harder for students to live here

– One-on-one time with Profs

– Smaller class sizes

– Because we can

– Excellent Philosophy degree was made possible

What changes would you make to what we teach and how we teach it?

– Remove some of the mandatory breadth requirements: e.g., science credits

– Get your best professors teaching 1st year: they’ll improve retention

– Energetic professors make you passionate

– Pay more attention to how students are reacting to the profs – get more student surveys out – make the feedback forms mandatory with every class

– Mandatory First Nations History class

– A course on international cultures: something like a Modern Comparative Civilization class

– An introductory course on the local community, especially important for those from out-of-town

– A mandatory “Intro to University” course

– Political Science Major needs to be added

– (one student said she would be) “insulted if TRU’s energy was focused on graduate students because undergrad needs improvement first”

– Professors need to make students read their textbooks

– More seminar discussions provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding of what they read.

What is the worst part about being an Arts student at TRU?

– The bad reputation of Arts programs–being teased for not being able to get a job after graduation

– The connotations behind the Arts – in comparison to the business or science (no clear path of employment)

– There is automatically more validity given to a science degree

– Lack of courses (sometime have to wait for courses to be offered to graduate/postponed graduation)

– Feeling of being not prepared for employment/grad school

– People don’t understand what the “Arts” are

– Stereotypes that Arts majors are “hippies”

– There should be more jobs available on campus for students who aren’t on student loans

– Competition, elitism between Arts and Sciences

– Need to have better understanding

– Need to be united

– We need to boast about our Arts program

What is the best part about being an Arts student at TRU?

– You get to ponder things that you would never ponder on your own

– Flexible program

– You can shape your resume to fit anything because it is so flexible

– Receiving good feedback from professors: thoughtful & helpful

– Close contact with professors

– Directed Studies (choices)

– Forming close relationships with classmates

– Professors are approachable and likeable (in most cases)

– The philosophy degree (positive feedback)

-Disciplines that do well, do very well

– Everyone loves his or her discipline

– Close-knit

-We need to promote the arts lifestyle

  • “do your degree in studying people”
  • “do your degree in studying the meaning of life”
  • “do your degree in studying fantastic literature”
  • “TRU: Beyond Twilight”

– Clubs- TRUGS is good

  • Some clubs drink too much…. (debated)

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