Perceived Course Rigor in Sport Management: Class Level, Course Grades, and Student Ratings

During the last half-century, critics of higher education have disparaged institutions for their declining standards and lack of rigor.  The U.S. has slipped in educational rankings while popular culture has glorified the social aspects of college above the intellectual (Arum & Roksa, 2011).  Caught in the middle, particularly as higher education has adopted more business-centric models, are faculty.

By James E. Johnson, Robert M. Turick, Michael F. Dalgety, Khirey B. Walker, Eric L. Klosterman, and Anya T. Eicher. All authors are based at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

During the last half-century, critics of higher education have disparaged institutions for their declining standards and lack of rigor.  The U.S. has slipped in educational rankings while popular culture has glorified the social aspects of college above the intellectual (Arum & Roksa, 2011).  Caught in the middle, particularly as higher education has adopted more business-centric models, are faculty.

While many faculty and administrators strive for high standards, worry over receiving poor student ratings may influence some faculty to lower their expectations/standards.  For example, the grading leniency hypothesis (Marsh & Duncan, 1992) suggests that faculty will inflate grades out of fear of retributional bias (Feldman, 2007) on student ratings. This stress could become amplified when tenure and promotion are at stake and student perceptions are the primary evaluative source for teaching performance.  In sport management, where some programs must combat the easy major label, this issue can become complex.  These beliefs are in contrast to the validity theory (Marsh & Duncan, 1992) that suggests students value a rigorous academic experience and rate faculty accordingly.

Unfortunately, an evaluation of rigor and its potential impact on course/faculty ratings is scarce.  For this study, rigor within individual courses was chosen so that instructor and course could be examined simultaneously.  Predictably, an operational definition of course rigor is elusive.  Removing the subjective nature of the term to objectively define and evaluate this construct is challenging.  Fortunately, Johnson et al. (2019) provided a definition that included the following five components of course rigor.

  • Critical Thinking
  • Challenge
  • Complex Material
  • Time and Labor Intensive (Quantity)
  • Production of Credible Work (Quality)

From those five components, Johnson et al. created seven questions designed to be included in tandem with student rating questionnaires.  Johnson et al.’s work provided the template used to conduct our study of sport management courses.

Methodologically, our study investigated 830 students in 69 sport management courses over the span of four years to determine if course ratings (i.e., student evaluations), course grades, and course level were related to course rigor.  The seven rigor questions developed by Johnson et al. were added to existing student ratings and strongly supported through a factor analysis.  Course ratings were distributed at the end of each semester and included three groups of questions that assessed the instructor, the course, and perceived rigor.

We found that the strongest correlations with course rigor occurred for course and instructor ratings.  Moreover, when predicting course rigor only the overall ratings scores (combined instructor and course scores) and course GPA were significant.  As overall ratings increased so too did the perception of rigor.  As course GPA decreased, rigor perceptions increased.

The pragmatic implications of this work are noteworthy for faculty and administrators.

  • While rigorous coursework may result in lower mean course GPAs, course rigor appears to be appreciated by students. So, the more rigor, the higher student ratings – provided work is appropriate for class level and content area.  This finding supports the validity theory (Marsh & Dunkin, 1992).
  • Because sport management students reported higher instructor, course, and overall ratings when perceived rigor increased (and mean course grades decreased), the grading leniency hypothesis (Marsh & Dunkin, 1992) does not seem to apply.
  • The fear of retributional bias (Feldman, 2007) should be minimized based on our results. This conclusion does not mean that individual students will not provide negative ratings or engage in retributional behaviors on occasion.  Rather, it means at the course level the mean scores over time indicate that if faculty engage in designing and implementing courses with the five elements of rigor, their mean course ratings will likely be improved.

 

Click here for full research article in Sport Management Education Vol. 14, Issue 1.

 

 

References

Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Feldman, K. A. (2007). Identifying exemplary teachers and teaching: Evidence from student ratings. In R.P. Perry & J.C. Smart (Eds.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education: An evidence-based perspective (pp. 93–129). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

Johnson, J. E., Weidner, T. G., Jones, J. A., & Manwell, A. K. (2019). Evaluating academic course rigor, Part I: Defining a nebulous construct. Journal of Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness, 8(1-2), 86-121.

Marsh, H. W., & Dunkin, M. J. (1992). Students’ evaluations of university teaching: A multidimensional perspective. In J.C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. 8, pp. 143-234). New York, NY: Agathon Press.

How Do We Help Our Students Arrive, If We Don’t Know Where They Started?

by Chris Barnhill (research conducted with Andrew Czekanski and Adam Pfleegor)

Dr. Christopher Barnhill is the Sport Management Program Director and Associate Professor at Georgia Southern University. Dr. W. Andrew Czekanski is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Recreation and Sport Management at Coastal Carolina University. Dr. Adam G. Pfleegor is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Sport Science at Belmont University.

In the summer of 2005, not long after my wife and I moved to Manhattan, Kansas, we experienced what has to be one of the most frustrating conversations of our marriage. I was in my new office in the Kansas State athletic department while Amy was driving back from a job interview in nearby, Riley, Kansas. She called from her cell phone desperately hoping that I could give her directions home. Unfortunately, I was of no help.

If you are familiar with this region, you know that most towns in the area are separated by a sea of wheat with no major highways. Smartphones did not yet exist and GPS was not common. She needed my help, but all I knew is that she was surrounded by wheat fields and a few windmills. Essentially, I knew she was somewhere in Kansas. I knew the destination she was trying to find but without knowing her current location, any advice was useless.

It’s impossible to draw a map to Point B without first knowing the location to Point A.

As faculty, it is our duty to be familiar with the knowledge and skills students must acquire to be successful in the sports industry. Many of us worked in the industry and regularly communicate with industry partners or advisory boards. Additionally, there is some great literature exploring industry and faculty perspectives of student outcomes (e.g. Barnes, 2014; Mathner & Martin, 2012; Schwab et al., 2013). We know the location of Point B. In Barnhill, Czekanski, and Pfleegor (2018), we attempted find Point A by gathering data from students at 12 undergraduate programs on their first day of Introduction to Sport Management.

Data About Sport Management Intro Students

Getting to know sport management studentsThe results of our study provided a complex picture of the students we are educating. Sport management students have high academic aspirations. More than half of the students surveyed desired to obtain an advanced degree and were heavily involved in their campus communities. However, their college GPA is lower than the general population. This might be explained by some of the demographic information in the sample. A majority of students identify as having a middle-class background, but many students come from lower or upper-class backgrounds. Graduation rates are significantly higher for students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds than for students who come from middle and lower socioeconomic classes (Snyder, de Brey & Dillow, 2010). This often stems from differences in resource allocations for K-12 schools, as well as less access to mentors with college experience (Institute for Research on Poverty, 2017).

When looking at racial and gender demographics, we found sport management programs generally have more White and Black students than the general undergraduate population, but few students from other populations (Snyder et al., 2019). Similarly, women are woefully underrepresented in our discipline. Literature consistently indicates diverse classroom environments improves learning outcomes (Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, & Gurin, 2002). While the current imbalance in representation represents an opportunity for growth by making our programs more welcoming to students from underrepresented populations, it also puts an emphasis on faculty to bring diverse viewpoints to the classroom.

The final section of our study explored students’ perceptions of their own abilities relative skills/knowledge. Scholarship consistently indicates sport management students are naïve to the realities of the field and have unrealistic expectations for their careers (Barnes, 2014; Mathner & Martin, 2012; Schwab et al., 2013). This may be because sport management students are primarily attracted to the discipline by their passion for sport. Participants in the study were generally unaware careers available in the sport industry. Our study also indicated students are overly confident in their own abilities. As a whole, the sample indicated beliefs that their skills and knowledge related to the industry were above average despite the fact that they had never taken a course related to sport management. Unrealistic career expectations not only impact student learning, they also have negative consequences after graduation (Bush, Bush, Oakley, & Cicala, 2014).

As sport management educators, we have a duty to prepare students for the industry to hope to enter. We must continue to be aware of and adapt to an ever-changing destination. However, we must also be keenly aware of the various jumping off points from which our students begin their journeys. We hope, if anything, this study provides a picture of the undergraduate student population and begins a conversation about curriculum design in undergraduate sport management programs.

Read the entire study here in the April 2018 edition of the Sport Management Education Journal

Barnes, J.C. (2014). What becomes of our graduates?: New employee job transition and socialization in sport administration. Sport Management Education Journal, 8, 27–34.

Barnhill, C.R., Czekanski, W.A., & Pfleegor, A.G. (2018). Getting to know our students: A snapshot of sport management students’ demographics and career expectations in the United States. Sport Management Education Journal, 12, 1-14.

Bush, A. J., Bush, V. D., Oakley, J., & Cicala, J. (2014). Formulating undergraduate student expectations for better career development in sales: A socialization perspective. Journal of Marketing Education, 36(2), 120-131. doi:10.1177/0273475314537831

Gurin, P., Dey E., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002). Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 330-366.

Institute for Research on Poverty (2017). Poverty Fact Sheet: Falling Further Behind: Inequity in College Completion. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Mathner, R.P., & Martin, C.L.L. (2012). Sport management graduate and undergraduate students’ perceptions of career expectations in sport management. Sport Management Education Journal, 6, 21–31.

Schwab, K.A., Dustin, D., Legg, E., Timmerman, D., Wells, M.S., & Arthur-Banning, S.G. (2013). Choosing sport management as a college major. SCHOLE: A Journal of Leisure Studies and Recreation Education, 28(2), 16–27.

Snyder, T. D., de Brey, C. & Dillow, S. A. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics 2017 (NCES 2018070). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.