lördag 20 april 2013

Procrastination project progress

I have written about the topic of procrastination before, but the last time was more than a year ago. Here is an update on our procrastination project. It isn't finished yet (no surprises there, right?), but not because we are lazy, but rather because it has been growing and then growing some more. We have collected a lot of new material and thus have a wealth to draw from now. We have had less time though to analyze and write stuff up (yet). One reason for that is that I'm busy writing other texts right now (will get back to that on the blog) and my colleague Björn wisely spends his time finishing his 10 years-in-the-coming ph.d. thesis rather than jumping onto a new project with both feet.

As I have mentioned before, we have a program-integrating course in our media technology engineering programme. In that course we mix students who are at different stages of their education. I was responsible for last year's course and the theme was "procrastination" (and studying habits and distractions and technostress). I wrote a blog post about the procrastination course theme at the time; "On procrastination". I then wrote a follow-up blog post with some reflections about my personal relationship to procrastination and my own (work) habits; "On work habits and on getting things done".

That was 18 months ago and finally, a year ago, me and my colleague Björn applied for some internal KTH research money (a pittance) to analyze the procrastination-related material that our students had generated in the program-integrating course. Our project is called "Supporting students' studying habits in the age of procrastination".

Beyond the material we collected during the previous academic year, we have now also collected new material from the neighboring computer science engineering program and thus presently have almost 700 (uniform and compulsory) answers to two questionnaires (about procrastination habits and about Internet/media use habits). We furthermore have upwards to 1000 one- or two-page essays answering a couple of open-ended questions about procrastination habits. We can also correlate the collected material with actual outcomes, i.e. find out if students who have problems with procrastination also have problems passing their courses, or problems passing specific courses etc. I am furthermore the advisor of a master's thesis student who is right now analyzing the 200+ media technology students' essays about procrastination (one written in the middle of the autumn (18 months ago) and the other essay written half a year later - a year ago).

After my meeting with Björn earlier this week, we now have ideas and themes for no less than six academic papers "in the pipe":

1. A general/quantitative paper about (our) students and procrastination based on the almost 700 answers we have gotten to our questionnaires. Comparisons to other studies, comparisons between 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students, comparisons between media technology and computer science engineerings students etc. Probably quite a lot of statistics in this paper (?)

2. A specific/qualitative paper about (our) students and procrastination based on in-depth comparisons and analysis of ≈ 50 computer science students who Have Problems vs 50 computer science students with better-than-average habits when it comes to procrastination.

3. A paper on students' media habits (boxed TV sets, computer games, Facebook etc.) and procrastination habits.

4. A critical paper about the drawbacks (procrastination- and distractions-wise) of having ubiquitous access to computing on the campus and in our lecture halls. The preliminary title is "What's behind the screen?". This paper will counter the simple-minded discourse about the advantages of ubiquitous access as we also want to pay attention to and write about the drawbacks... (ubiquitous procrastination?).

5. A short "best practices" paper outlining what we have done in our course(s) and how we did it. This might lead to others also implementing a course module about procrastination in their respective university programs.

6. "What happened afterwards?" A follow-up with correlations between procrastination habits, academic performance and dropout rates.

As to paper number 5, we plan to (later this spring) submit a Swedish-language paper to a Swedish conference, 4.e Utvecklingskonferensen för Sveriges ingenjörsutbildningar [4.th developmental conference for Swedish engineering educations]. After the conference, we plan to submit an updated English-language version (with feedback and ideas from the conference worked into the paper) to a Scandinavian open-access journal. In fact, we wrote a draft version of an abstract for that paper when we met earlier this week. The paper doesn't have a title yet and we will review it again before we submit it to the Swedish-language conference (deadline May 31), but here is the 300-word abstract:

Procrastination, or deferring tasks against your own better judgement, is a problem in general and a large problem for students in particular. [One or two sentences that supports the previous statement]. The step from high school to university studies can be large for many students since it includes fewer checks and increased responsibilities in terms of studying habits, performance and results.

We have developed a course module that treats the topic of procrastination. The module involves 1) reading literature on procrastination and 2) filling out a survey about procrastination/studying habits, 3) writing a short reflection on studying habits followed by 4) discussions in small groups and 5) eliciting and later following-up on a “promise” related to improving procrastination- and/or studying habits that was given by each student at that was supposed to be upheld during a period of 60 days. The module was given as a part of a compulsory course for 465 computer science undergraduate students during the spring of 2013.

We have collected a wealth of materials enabling us to evaluate the efficacy of the module, including 1) two quantitative online questionnaires, 2) a qualitative questionnaire with open-ended answers, 3) elicited promises as well as follow-ups of said promises, and 4) an evaluation of the course module.

57% of the students responded that the course module had a positive effect on their studying habits and only 7% responded that the module did not have any effect. Among the students who indicated that procrastination was a “large” or “very large” problem for them, the responses were even more positive towards the module.

The module in question was used at another KTH Master of Science in Engineering programme during the previous academic year (2011/2012), and is also planned to be used in a brand new Master of Science in Software Engineering programme at Linköping University during the following academic year (2013/2014).


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