A Look at Final Exams at CNU

Memo

Date: November 12, 2015

To: Anton Riedl, Head of Physics, Computer Science and Engineering Department

From: Brian Knox, Student at Christopher Newport University

Subject: Project Idea for Final Exam Schedule

Purpose

The purpose of this memo is to propose a new method for students to determine their final exam schedule.

Summary

Christopher Newport University students rely on a system that could be greatly improved for the delivery of final exam schedules.  Every semester, the final exam schedule is released in a table where students must browse the columns arranged by time and exam block and try to find their course each exam blocks.  If that sentence was confusing to understand, imagine how difficult it is to execute at a time where students are under incredible amounts of stress.  Misreading the graphs just cannot be done, as missing the final exam inevitably results in failing a course.

While the current system works and life would go on if nothing else were to be implemented, there has to be a more simple way for students to access their exam schedules and have peace of mind that their time slot is correct.  A database could be built of the classes, updated each semester with a single click and all students need to do is type in their specific courses and a list of their exam dates and times will appear.

Abstract

“A Look at Final Exams at Christopher Newport University”

Prepared by:             Brian Knox, Senior CNU Student

            In the fall of 2015, a study was conducted to evaluate whether or not students were content with the current system of receiving the final exam schedule for courses at Christopher Newport University.  This idea stemmed from a personal dislike of the current system and knowledge that there is an easier way, using a database environment.  While this proposed optimization is not about saving money, it seeks to alleviate some of the hassle placed on CNU students in the most stressful part of each semester.  First, the current schedule delivery methods were assessed.  This validated that the exam schedules could be given out in an easy and completely accurate manner.  Then a survey was conducted asking 40 CNU students how they found out their final exam schedule, whether or not they had issues with these methods and if they were interested in the proposed method.  From the online research, the creation of a system that simply tells students their exam schedule based on their classes is recommended.  CNU already has many databases at work behind the scenes, all that would need to be implemented is a proper query to those databases that a student can access from the CNU Live web portal.

Keywords: CNU, Christopher Newport University, final exams, exam schedule, education

Introduction

            In the fall of 2015, research was conducted to determine the feasibility of implementing a system that gives students at Christopher Newport University a personalized final exam schedule.  This report illustrates the findings from the study.  Students from CNU were directly asked whether or not there was any dissatisfaction with the current method and if the proposed method interested them.  From the responses given, it was concluded that implementation of this system would be of interest to students at CNU.

            The problem that exists with the current system is that there are only two ways of receiving final exam information, a professor is nice and tells you the time, or the student looks it up on their own from a table.  It was found that many students disliked these methods for a few main reasons.  First, it was possible for the professor to make a mistake, and tell students the wrong date and time.  Second, the student could misread the online table due its confusing format.  Third, even if the methods were accurate, students acknowledged that they wanted an easier way to retrieve this information.

            As an Information Science major, knowledge of how CNU’s website works went into the research process.  It is possible to utilize the databases that are already in place from CNU Live.  From there, a query can be added that pulls information from various tables in the database.  Using this method, students can go to CNU Live, click a link and a personalized final exam schedule will be posted for them. With this information in mind, a survey was distributed openly to the students.  The students were asked how they found out their exam schedules, if they had ever received any information in error, either by their mistake or their professors, if they liked these methods and finally, if they would like the proposed method implemented.

            From the survey, it was concluded that an implementation of the proposed method would be preferred by CNU students.  While this feature does not save the school any money, it alleviates some of the stress placed on students.  In the following sections, further information is provided that details the research methods, the results, how conclusions were drawn from the results and the recommended actions to be taken by CNU.

Theory

            The methodology behind this research is that of a case study.  A case study is one of the five approaches to inquiry according to John W. Creswell of the University of Nebraska.  The main reason for implementing a case study is that Christopher Newport University is a bounded system.  By looking at this independent environment, or case, information was determined on how to proceed.  The case to be evaluated is the group of all students at CNU.  The study was conducted by surveying members directly in the group.  Through the 40 responses given, a statistically significant sample, inferences can be made on the entire population of students at CNU.  Now that boundaries have been determined and the data has been collected, the next step is to use a holistic approach of data analyzation.  Due to the restricted nature of the study being collected, the fact that only one case is being evaluated, the analyzation is less strenuous to complete.  The importance of conducting accurate data and the accuracy of the analyzation is of utmost importance to the feasibility of the study.  A challenge lies in that with such a small case, there may not be enough evidence to provide comprehensive and in-depth analysis.  This was combated with enough results from the survey in this scenario.

Research Methods

            In order to accurately tackle the case being studied, a survey was conducted available to all students at Christopher Newport University.  The survey was distributed via email and through Facebook groups that all CNU students have access to.  They were asked what methods they were currently using to access their final exam schedules at CNU.  Next, students were asked if they had ever had any issues with those methods.  The most important question from the survey, whether or not the students liked the current methods was asked next.  This question was vital due to the fact that, without presenting the reasoning behind the question, it would validate the proposed method.  For this question, a paragraph block was used to gather responses and a dialog box appeared if the student did not meet a predetermined character limit to the response.  Determining whether or not there is a need for a new method to obtain final exam schedules is the main reason behind the survey.  The following questions revealed the proposed method and asks students if they were interested in it being implemented.

Results

         This section depicts the results of the survey in various forms and breaks down the results of the research.  First, an illustration of the current method for finding out the final exam schedule at Christopher Newport University each semester is presented and evaluated.  The responses to the questions are presented, detailed analysis of the students’ responses is provided and recommendations are provided so that CNU may determine whether or not to implement them.

fall 2015 exam schedule final-page-001 (2)Figure 1.  The final exam schedule for fall 2015

          The only way to determine one’s final exam schedule is the table shown in Figure 1.  Professors may look at this and put the information in the syllabus or announce it to the class when the date is nearing.  Alternatively, students may access this table themselves and proceed to try to find their courses in the table and create a schedule for themselves.  This method is a daunting task.  For millennials, receiving information quickly is in their nature and taking five minutes to write down one’s schedule is considered a hassle.  More importantly, there is stress placed on the student because getting the times right is very important.  Some students have articulated that the military time confuses them.  One survey respondent stated “The military time is confusing, I have to recalculate when my exams are because I am not familiar with it.”  While many agreed that the system is confusing, it was noted that the current method gets the job done.  As expected, there were responses saying that while they believe it could be improved, they had no problem with keeping it the same.  This brings a psychological factor into the study.  Change.  It has been researched that many people actually fear change.  According to a lecture by Lance Drummand that took place on October 20th, 2015 in the Luter hall at CNU, change is resisted by many due to fear of the unknown.  The bottom line is that people are comfortable the status quo and it takes a leader to break it.  This rationale explains why students were quick to respond with “The current system is okay.”
An unexpected result however, was that of students who admitted the system did not always work.  When asked if they had ever received the wrong time for an exam, either due to an error by the professor or by themselves, an unanticipated response came forth.  Often times when questioning people, they will not readily admit fault.

Misinformed Pie Chart            Figure 2. The results of question 4 from the survey in the form of a pie chart

        The first thing you notice thanks to the visualization technique is that slightly more than half of the students responded that they have never received the wrong information from the current final exam format.  The underlying issue that can’t be instantly spotted from this visualization is that the rest of those responses, implies the student has in fact, not gotten the correct exam date and time.  Overall, it was assumed that the system worked fine, many students had said so.  But here is information stating that only 52.5% of the respondents had flawlessly used the current table system.  That number is alarmingly low and if there is a method that could decrease that number, it should be immediately deployed.  Another inference to be determined, coincides with the previous psychological notion that people do not readily admit guilt often. The questions answers were particularly worded that a student had to say “Yes, I misread the online schedule.”  Therefore there were only six students who chose that response while eleven stated that a professor what the one who committed the error.  The “other” choice represents those students who did not find out their schedule from a professor or the online schedule as seen in Figure 1 yet still had been misinformed at some point.  It is possible they had a friend tell them the wrong time.  An explanation was not needed because these answers did not pertain to the nature of the study.

        The most impactful portion of the survey was one of the questions requiring students to provide their own responses.  The question had its settings and wording chosen very carefully.  “Do you like the current way of obtaining your final exam schedule?”  This is an open-ended question that sought to receive a wide variety of responses.  Notably, as it was an online survey, the settings for this particular question were altered so that a message popped up if the student did not type a certain number of characters that would not allow them to continue until they did.  This implementation helped provide the valuable feedback needed from the students.  It did not limit what the students could type in any way therefore keeping the open-endedness of the question intact.

Wordcloud cropped copyFigure 3.  A literal word cloud of responses generated from question 5 of the survey.

        A word cloud is a simplistic way of visualizing data.  It organizes all the words that were given by the students based on how often they were used.  The more often a word was used throughout all the responses, the larger the word is in the cloud.  Every word was included except for articles such as “the.”  The most prominent word here is confusing.  It was used far more than any other word in the responses.  The word confuse means to make uncertain or unable to understand something.  This word is the largest in the cloud because whether or not students like the system or not, they overwhelmingly agreed it was confusing.  Other words in the cloud are not so easily interpreted.  The next biggest word is chart.  Which just explained that students used the word to reference what they were talking about and offers no insight as to the opinions they had.  The next largest word is works.  This shows that many students stated the current system does the job.  While this information is important, whether or not the online schedule does what it is supposed to do is not in question.  The study seeks to determine a deeper meaning, whether or not the job.  The next biggest word is a challenge, the word easy.  Due to the fact that there are no words surrounding it, one cannot determine whether the student was saying it is easy or it is not easy from this word cloud.  Therefore analysis cannot be used of that word.  ‘

         While some of these words were helpful in determining concrete results of the study and some were useless, an important thing to be considered is the absence of words.  There are many affirmative words that can be used to describe things that show interest and commitment.  However, words such as this were not present at all.  Consider a product, it needs to build its brand.  When people have a positive brand image of something, what words do they use to describe it?  Maybe they like it, or enjoy it, or even love it.  None of these words are represented from the responses given by the students.  This leads to the assertion that the current system is simply tolerable by the students.

       From evaluating the responses given from the survey, a few conclusions can be made.  First, the current system of having a schedule online satisfies its intended purpose.  Second, students find the schedule overall to be in a confusing format and dislike the time it takes to determine what their final exam schedule is.  If left unchecked, no actual harm will come to the university, financially or through negative public opinion.  However, if the status quo is broken, if the schedules were to be personalized for each student, a stress will be lifted and the problems of too much time and obtaining inaccurate results will be lifted entirely.

         Due to the nature of the problem and the information systems currently in place at CNU, it is the recommendation of this study that action be taken.  The key factor is using technology to revolutionize the way students obtain their final exam schedules.  An unexpectedly high number of students are misinformed by the current schedule.  While the schedule is not technically at fault, there are steps that can be taken to eliminate the user error.  Another reason for the recommendation is that the cost factor for CNU is low.  The systems that need to be used to solve the problem are already in place, they just need to be implemented to suit the needs of the students.

        The actions for CNU should be as follows:  Using the database system that is currently in place for CNU Live, thousands of tables containing information across the university from enrollment information to the schedule of classes, a simple query will be created.  A query is a database management tool that pulls certain tables from an entire database in order to view them together.  The query will scan the required tables from that database containing the exam dates and times and the current courses a student is enrolled in, from there it will spit out a list matching the classes to their respective final exam date and times.  This feature can be accessed from CNU Live just as a student would view their current schedule or preform a what-if analysis.

References

Creswell, John W. Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing among Five Approaches. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2007. Print.

“Why Companies Resist Change.” Luter Lecture Series: Lance Drummond. Luter Hall Room 121, Newport News. 20 Oct. 2015. Lecture.

Appendix

Survey Questions

Survey 1Survey 2

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