Introductory STEM courses represent entry points into a major, and student experiences in these courses can affect both their persistence and success in STEM disciplines. Identifying course-based student concerns may help instructors detect negative perceptions, areas of struggle, and potential barriers to success. Using an open-response survey question, we identified 13 common concerns expressed by students in introductory STEM courses. We converted these student-generated concerns into closed-ended items that were administered at the beginning and middle of the semester to students in 22 introductory STEM course sections across three different institutions. Students were asked to reflect on each item on a scale from very concerned to not concerned. A subset of these concerns was used to create a summary score of course-based concern for each student. Overall levels of student concern decreased from the first week to the middle of the semester; however, this pattern varied across different demographic groups. In particular, when controlling for initial concern and course grades, female students held higher levels of concern than their peers. Since student perceptions can impact their experiences, addressing concerns through communication and instructional practices may improve students’ overall experiences and facilitate their success.
“What Will I Experience in My College STEM Courses?” An Investigation of Student Predictions about Instructional Practices in Introductory Courses
The instructional practices used in introductory college courses often differ dramatically from those used in high school courses, and dissatisfaction with these practices is cited by students as a prominent reason for leaving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors. To better characterize the transition to college course work, we investigated the extent to which incoming expectations of course activities differ based on student demographic characteristics, as well as how these expectations align with what students will experience. We surveyed more than 1500 undergraduate students in large introductory STEM courses at three research-intensive institutions during the first week of classes about their expectations regarding how class time would be spent in their courses. We found that first-generation and first-semester students predict less lecture than their peers and that class size had the largest effect on student predictions. We also collected classroom observation data from the courses and found that students generally underpredicted the amount of lecture observed in class. This misalignment between student predictions and experiences, especially for first-generation and first-semester college students and students enrolled in large- and medium-size classes, has implications for instructors and universities as they design curricula for introductory STEM courses with explicit retention goals.
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Undergraduate Student Concerns in Introductory STEM Courses: What They Are, How They Change, and What Influences Them
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