Semester Conversion and Student Stress: is Attitude What It`s All About?
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
Skellie, P. T. , Jeffery, D. C., & Ziegler, C. B. (1999). Semester Conversion and Student Stress: is Attitude What It`s All About?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 2. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 18, 2017 .

Semester Conversion and Student Stress: is Attitude What It`s All About?
PATRICIA T. SKELLIE, DANA C. JEFFERY, & CHRISTINE B. ZIEGLER
KENNESAW STATE UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: CHRISTINE ZIEGLER (cziegler@ksumail.kennesaw.edu)
ABSTRACT
According to the Georgia Board of Regents, their decision in August 1998 to convert from a quarter system to a semester system provided advantages with little or no impact on the individual students (Fullerton, 1998). Rickinson (1998) stated that the ability to adjust to transitions varied from student to student and was related to whether the individual could contain the stress well enough to make the change occur successfully. The investigators examined students` attitudes about this transition to determine whether this conversion was stress evoking. The study consisted of 590 volunteer college students (196 men, 394 women). Of the 590 participants, 199 were less than 23 years old (traditional) and 391 were greater than 23 years old (nontraditional). The results indicated that students who thought the conversion was a good idea (64.4%) and were not nervous about it (56.3%) thought the transition would improve the quality of their education. Neither the students` ages, gender, nor experience correlated with the perception that the conversion would improve the quality of their education; however, thinking that the conversion was a good idea and not being nervous about it did.


INTRODUCTION
In August 1998, the University System of Georgia converted from a quarter system to a semester system. The quarter system divided the regular academic year into three ten-week periods and a summer session. The semester divided the academic year into fall and spring periods, 15 weeks each, including an eight-week summer session and two five-week summer sessions. According to the Georgia Board of Regents, students under the semester system experienced certain advantages, for example, the pace of the semester system was less hectic and the students had more time to work on projects and papers and more time to absorb subject material (www.peachnet.edu/semester/qanda.html). The board assumed that the change to semesters provided these advantages with little or no impact on the individual students (Fullerton, 1998). Investigating student stress in general, Rickinson (1998) examined students` perceptions of the level of distress they experienced during major transitions. The author stated that the ability to adjust to transitions varied from student to student. Adaptability required the ability to contain anxiety or stress well enough to make the change occur successfully. Having found no information about students` opinions on the semester conversion transition, the investigators became interested in examining students` perceptions and attitudes about this new system that may, in fact, elevate levels of stress in students, at least initially. The purpose of this paper was to investigate students` perceptions and attitudes about the effects of the Georgia University System`s semester conversion and whether this conversion was stress evoking to them. The researchers examined stress by asking students questions concerning their level of nervousness about the upcoming semester conversion. Age, previous experience with semesters, and gender of the participants were correlated with questions concerning students` attitudes about certain aspects of the conversion (see Appendix). Issues, such as whether the students thought the conversion was a good idea, if the students were nervous about the transition, and if the students thought transition would effect the quality of their education, were examined (see Appendix). The researchers expected to find that if students perceived the transition to be a good idea and were not nervous about it, they would have a more positive attitude (regardless of age, gender, or experience) about the effect of the conversion on the quality of their education.


METHOD
Participants Participants were selected on a volunteer basis at a commuter college in metro Atlanta during the summer session before the implementation of the semester conversion. There were 590 participants (196 men, 394 women). Age was classified by using traditional (under 23 years of age,n = 199) and nontraditional (over 23 years of age, n = 391) categories. Materials A survey was constructed which consisted of two parts. Part one included demographic information, a question pertaining to whether the student had previous experience with semesters, and a question asking whether the student would be willing to participate in the follow-up study. A space was provided for a name and telephone number if, in fact, permission was given to contact them for the follow-up study. Part two consisted of brief instructions for the survey and the actual survey questions. The survey questions included a range of four levels of value from 1 = Agree, 2 = Somewhat Agree, 3 = Disagree, and 4 = Strongly Disagree. Values varied according to how the question was posed (see Appendix). Consent forms were available for those who volunteered to participate in the follow-up study (see Appendix). Procedure The survey was devised and contact was made with the college professors on staff during summer session via email. Permission was requested to come to professors` classrooms for either ten minutes at the beginning or ten minutes at the end of the class session distribute the surveys. Permission was granted from professors and a schedule of appointments was set (again via email) for collecting the data. Classrooms were visited according to the previously determined appointments. The surveys were distributed, brief instructions given, and participation for the follow-up study was solicited. The collected data was then tabulated and analyzed using SPSS for Windows (Norusis, 1998).


RESULTS
Responses to the demographic section of the survey were calculated and summaries of the responses of the participants were computed. Of the 590 participants, 33.2% were men and 66.8% were women. Approximately 34% of the sample were traditional and about 66% were nontraditional. When asked whether they had previous experience with semesters, 35.4% of the participants had previous experience with semesters while 64.4 stated they had not (see Figure 1). Correlations were computed—bivariate and multivariate. An interesting finding was that 64.4% of the sample thought the conversion was a good idea, 35.1% did not. When asked whether the conversion would improve the quality of education, 50.6% agreed while 48.4% disagreed. Approximately 43% of the sample agreed they were nervous about the conversion and a little over 56% disagreed (see Figure 2). No relationships were found between age, gender, or experience and the perception that semesters would improve the quality of education. Those that thought the conversion was a good idea and were not nervous about it thought the transition would improve the quality of their education (see Table 1). In addition, younger students tended to be more nervous, but those with previous experience with semesters were less likely to be nervous, regardless of age (see Table 1).


DISCUSSION
Results indicate that relationships do exist between certain aspects of the semester conversion and students` perception of the impact of this change on their lives. For example, neither the students` ages, gender, nor experience correlate with the perception that the conversion would improve the quality of their education. However, those students who think the conversion is a good idea and are not nervous about it believe the transition will improve the quality of their education. Also, students who had previous experience tend to be less nervous about the semester conversion (see Table 1). Therefore, what does seem to be significant regarding whether the conversion will improve the quality of education for the students is whether they think it is a good idea and if they are or are not nervous about the change. It also is apparent that those students who had previous experience with semesters are less nervous about the transition and those who are less nervous can see an opportunity for improvement in the quality of education. Apparently, this previous experience with semesters helps decrease the amount of stress the student is experiencing thus allowing for a more positive perception about the improved quality of education. Having clearly addressed the hypotheses, the researchers uncovered some other interesting relationships. For instance, a larger percentage of the sample think the conversion is a good idea (64.4%) believe the conversion will improve the quality of their education (50.6%) and also are not nervous about the conversion (56.3%). Other interesting trends emerged. For ease in interpretation, findings are categorized according to academic issues and social issues. Under the category of academic issues, those who think the conversion is a good idea also believe they will have more time to study, classes will be easier, teachers will be more available, and class schedules will be better. Apparently students with positive attitudes believe that the conversion is going to be a successful transition. Students who believe that the conversion will improve the quality of their education also think they will have more time to study, but in addition, think that classes will be easier, their grades will be better, and their schedules will not be harder. Again, maintaining a positive attitude appears to encourage responses supportive of the conversion. Those who responded more negatively believe the conversion will be a stressful transition. The level of stress was assessed by simply asking students whether they are or are not nervous about the transition, with higher scores indicating less nervousness. Students who respond that they are nervous about the conversion also think that teachers will be less available and perceive that this transition will push their graduation date back. When assessing this issue, the results support the idea that negative attitudes have a tendency to produce pessimistic expectations. Also, students who are more nervous tend to be those who were underclassmen—freshmen and sophomores—irrespective of age. This attitude can possibly be attributed to the fact that those students are the ones caught in the middle of the transition. Furthermore, students who believe the conversion will make class schedules harder also believe the transition will push their graduation dates back when in all reality the conversion has no effect on graduation dates. Again, this supports the premise that negative attitudes produce somewhat less than positive results. The social factors involved in the study focused on whether the conversion would result in more social time and more sleep. Results indicate that those who believe they will have more social time think the conversion is a good idea, will improve the quality of their education, and will give them more time to study and sleep. This further supports the assumption that optimistic attitudes produce positive results. These findings do not support the Georgia Board of Regents (Fullerton, 1998) position that the semester conversion would provide certain advantages with little or no impact on the individual students. It appears that the students think they will be effected according to their degree of nervousness (stress) and their attitudes about the conversion. These findings support Rickinson`s (1998) argument that the ability to adjust to change varies from student to student. Successful adaptation to stress depends, to a large extent, on the individual`s ability to control stress in productive ways. In our sample, this appears to have been reflected in more positive attitudes about the conversion. In conclusion, the findings of the present study supported the researchers` hypotheses that having a good attitude about the conversion without nervousness would result in positive perceptions about the quality of education regardless of age, gender, or experience. The value of the research is in understanding students` views on these important issues. This information should then be used to guide major curricular decisions that impact students directly. Since this study served to provide baseline data, a follow-up study is in progress to determine whether changes in students` perceptions and attitudes have occurred since they have completed the conversion and actually experienced semesters. The follow-up study also will address whether the students sought advice or counseling from available professors or advisement services offered by the university. The study will also examine some attitudes about the semester conversion from the professors` perspectives.


REFERENCES
Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. Questions and answers on semester conversion. Available at(http://www.peachnet.edu/semester/qanda.html). (1998, September 19). Fullerton, Barry (bfullert@rgtofc.Regents.PeachNet.EDU). (1998, September 21). Semester conversion. E-mail to Pat Skellie (rskellie@mindspring.com). Norusis, M. J. (1998). SPSS graduate pack (version 8.0). (Computer software). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Rickinson, B. (1998). The relationship between undergraduate student counseling and successful degree completion. Studies in Higher Education, 23, 95-102.


TABLES
Table 1

Correlations Between Demographic Information and Student`s

Perceptions About Semester Conversion

__________________________________________________________

T/NT Sex Experience Improved Quality of -----____________________________ ___________ Education___

Nervousness .13** -.05 -.35** -.18**

Good Idea -.02 -.08* .09* .53**

Improved Quality -.03 -.06 .05 1.00 of Education

--------__________________________________________________________

Note. **Correlation is significant at the .01 level.

*Correlation is significant at the .05 level.

T represents traditional students (under 23 years).

NT represents nontraditional students (over 23 years).

N is 590.

Submitted 6/3/99 11:24:54 PM
Last Edited 6/3/99 11:42:54 PM
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