Students responded to a series of statements regarding their academic experience on a Likert scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Our results suggest that generally, Middlebury students are motivated to learn and feel inspired by their classes (Figure 1).
Feelings of Inspiration in Classes Amongst Students
In addition to feeling more inspired by their work than most students in other institutions, Middlebury students claim that they actually enjoy the process of learning (Figure 2).
Student Enjoyment in the Learning Process
Despite feeling fulfilled by their educational experience, many students at Middlebury struggle with doubting their abilities and feeling like a fraud, an experience otherwise known as imposter syndrome (Figure 3).
Experiences of Imposter Syndrome Amongst Middlebury Students
In the section of the survey about student wellbeing, a variety of questions revealed that student’s perceptions of their overall health and work/life balance are generally quite poor. The vast majority of Middlebury students claim that they have felt overwhelmed for more than half of the past month (Figure 4).
Feelings of Overwhelmingness in Middlebury Students
In addition to high levels of stress, most surveyed students say that they rarely or only sometimes feel that they have time to relax (Figure 5).
Student Perceptions of Available Time to Relax
Having time to rest and recover greatly impacts student wellbeing and academic performance. Measures of student wellbeing generally are also generally tied to questions about substance use. At Middlebury, nearly 60% of surveyed students report using substances in order to cope with their stress at least some of the time (Figure 6).
Student Substance Use as a Mechanism for Coping with Stress
In the latter portion of the survey, students were asked about their academic performance and classroom habits in an effort to understand how students navigate their classes. Data from this section reveals that:
- 72% of students report faking enjoyment in their classes at least sometimes.
- 73% of surveyed students try to “hack” or find ways to do less of their work in their classes at least some of the time.
- Only 27% of students report that they “always” do all the assignments for their classes.
These data reveal that most Middlebury students – despite claiming that they enjoy learning and find their classes to be meaningful – fake enjoyment in their classes and find ways to get their work done faster, or not do it at all.
Although students assert that their classroom experience is highly meaningful, our research aimed to find out where else students find meaning in their college experience. When asked to rank the most meaningful parts of their college experience from most important to least important, here’s how students answered. (Figure 7).
Average of Most Meaningful Parts of the College Experience as Ranked by Respondents
- Classes and Course Work
- Off campus activities or trips
- On campus events
- On or off campus jobs
Friends/relationships are overwhelmingly the most important part of a Middlebury student’s life, with classes and course work ranking second. Clubs, spots, and other events also rank highly.
While the majority of the research focused on grading models and student experiences, the latter portion of this section of the survey asks qualitative questions about students’ educational experience. All respondents report having taken classes with traditional grades (either numerical or letter) and many have taken classes with a labor or effort based model. Almost half of surveyed students have also experienced some type of self-grading model.
When asked about the main goal of a college education, student responses varied greatly based on personal beliefs and availability of resources. A number of student responses suggest that a college degree is a necessary stepping stone to getting a job.
Q1: What is the main goal of a college education for you?
“To get that goddamn piece of paper.”
“Degree is Necessary tool in today’s political economy”
“It’s honestly a conduit for getting a job, even though it shouldn’t be that.”
Meanwhile, most other students expressed profound concerns about self-improvement, learning, and developing skills that will set them up for success in the future.
“To figure out how to be a lifelong learner. I want to acquire the skills to be able to teach myself things and be curious about the world, rather than getting burnt out.”
“To give me tools to go out into the world as a kind, capable, and informed person.”
“To better improve myself – not only academically but socially, culturally, etc. I wanted to work on becoming the best version of myself.”
In the realm of grading, our survey first asked students to explain what type of feedback they find to be the most helpful. All but a couple of students claimed that they preferred receiving either written feedback or having conferences as opposed to just grades.
Q2: What type of feedback do you find the most helpful? (ex. Grades, written ungraded feedback, conferences, etc.)
Students who preferred written feedback reported that:
“It gives me substantive ideas of how I can improve and generally is not demoralizing.”
“This feedback is in the framework of colleagues supporting each other to conduct and communicate their research best, as opposed to punitive, condescending, or right/wrong comments.”
“I find non-graded written feedback to be the most helpful. When there is a grade on an assignment, I find myself skipping over the feedback and focusing on the grade instead.”
Students who like conferences offer that:
“They are probably the most helpful because I am able to have a dynamic conversation with my professor and ask specific questions that will ultimately yield the most desired result.”
“They are often clearer than just grades or even only written feedback.”
“It is definitely more of two-way communication about feedback. Allows the student to kinda explain their case.”
“It feels like they are actually trying to read and understand my work in order to give me personalized feedback. Sharing out with a group of peers is also a very helpful way of getting feedback that feels less power-charged than a professor-student relationship.”
Lastly, we asked students to reflect upon all of the grading models that they had experienced at Middlebury and share which one had been their favorite.
Q3: Which of the grading models that you have experienced has been your favorite?
A few students prefer traditional grading (numerical or letter), saying that:
“It’s quantifiable and easy to visualize.”
“It motivates me to do my work and do well in classes – validates my work and boosts transcript.”
Labor/effort based grading was overwhelmingly the favorite model experienced by students. Here’s what some of them had to say about it:
“I felt like I was more concerned about my growth and improvement as a student. I really listened to and valued feedback from my professor and would revise my work to make it better, and I trusted that if I put in the work, my final grade would reflect that.”
“it rewards you for your engagement and commitment throughout the class and focuses on growth and learning vs. performance.”
“Not only did it motivate me to work harder in the class, but I also felt that the grade I received demonstrated the amount of work I put into the class.”
“It often takes more work, but it makes me more invested in doing my best and it keeps my focus on learning and enjoying school, not on only doing as well as I have to to get a good grade and finish the class.”
Lastly, the students that had experienced self grading also had generally positive feedback:
“It provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the previous semester.”
“It created a sense of trust between the professor and students. It gives students the power and the responsibility to think critically about their own work — not just its correctness, but the effort that went into it, as well.”
“I knew from the get-go that I was going to be the one I was reporting to, and no one else, so I learned a lot more, worked harder, enjoyed the material and my life.”
“This setup takes the pressure off and makes me feel like I can focus on doing meaningful work and responding to feedback.”