Posted by Jay Livingston
What kind of prerequisites do we need for sociology courses?
I’ve been wondering about that because the administration here has told us to stick prerequisites on all our courses except entry-level courses. Students who want to take a sociology course numbered in the 400s must have taken a 300-level course – the department gets to specify which courses will serve. Similarly, 200-level courses must have 100-level prerequisites.
This makes sense for sequential courses. If you haven’t mastered basic Spanish grammar and vocabulary of Spanish I, you shouldn’t take Spanish II. In some math and science courses too, students may need specific knowledge from other courses. But in sociology, we have very few sequential courses. Even with more technical courses like Statistics and Methods, some departments sequence them with Methods first, other schools put Statistics first. But for topic courses, will students do better in Mass Media (SOCI 407) if they have had Urban (SOCI 311)?
I wondered whether prior sociology courses actually make a difference so I looked at the grades of the 300 or so students who took the course in the eight sections we offered in two semesters last year. If prerequisites make sense, then students with no prior sociology courses should get lower grades. Students with more sociology courses should do better – the more prior sociology, higher the grade in 220. Here are the results.
The groups are all the same except for the two-prior group (there were only 11 of them, so a couple of high scorers could skew the average). The average grade for the others - no priors, one prior, three or more priors – was the same: B-minus.
Prior courses or prerequisites are not a good predictor of performance in the course. They make no difference.
What does make a difference? Being a good student. Overall GPA was the best predictor of the grade in SOCI 220 (r = .3). The correlation with prior sociology courses was effectively zero.
This is just one course in one department. Does anyone have other data on the efficacy of prerequisites?