ANALYSIS OF STUDENTS’ MOTIVATIONAL AND AFFECTIVE BELIEFS IN GENERAL CHEMISTRY

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ANALYSIS OF STUDENTS’ MOTIVATIONAL AND AFFECTIVE BELIEFS IN GENERAL CHEMISTRY

ABSTRACT

The research reported in this thesis explores students’ motivations in a post-secondary general chemistry course utilizing a peer facilitated active learning environment. Particularly, this study seeks to address how students’ personal characteristics and the social learning environment influences science self-efficacy, attitude, and overall satisfaction in general chemistry. A survey methodology was used to assess students’ motivation to learn science, perception of formative feedback, course recommendation, and satisfaction. Analysis of questionnaire data (n = 160) revealed that students were more extrinsically motivated towards learning chemistry on average. Intrinsic motivation and other motivational components, such as self-determination and selfefficacy, were found to be lower on average. Regression analyses were used to find relationships among these constructs. In general, we find that student satisfaction and course recommendation are less dependent on students’ personal characteristics (i.e., motivational orientation), but more dependent on what happens in the course (i.e., quality of instruction, and feedback provided by the instructor and assistants in instruction). Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are outlined and suggestions for further research are included.

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF FIGURES ……………………………………………………………………………………………… vi

LIST OF TABLES ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. vii

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS……………………………………………………………………………………. viii

Chapter 1  Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………. 1

1.1 Overarching Problem ………………………………………………………………………………… 1

1.2 Research Goals and Questions ……………………………………………………………………. 3

1.3 Organization of Thesis ………………………………………………………………………………. 4

1.4 References ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

Chapter 2  Theoretical Framework and Literature Review …………………………………………… 7

2.1 Theoretical Framework ……………………………………………………………………………… 7

2.2 Student Motivation Towards Learning Science ……………………………………………… 8

2.3 Formative Feedback and The Learning Environment ………………………………………. 10

2.4 Learning Assistants …………………………………………………………………………………… 11

2.5 Conceptual Model …………………………………………………………………………………….. 13

2.6 References ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 15

Chapter 3  Methods ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 19

3.1 Research Context ……………………………………………………………………………………… 19

3.1.1 Participants …………………………………………………………………………………….. 19

3.1.2 Course Overview …………………………………………………………………………….. 20

3.1.3 LA Program at Penn State…………………………………………………………………. 20

3.2 Data Collection ………………………………………………………………………………………… 21

3.3 Measures ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 21

3.4 Data Analysis ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 23

3.4.1 Descriptive Statistics ……………………………………………………………………….. 23

3.4.2 Exploratory Factor Analysis ……………………………………………………………… 24

3.4.3 Internal Consistency Reliability …………………………………………………………. 25

3.4.4 Regression Analyses ………………………………………………………………………… 25

3.5 References ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 26

Chapter 4  Results and Discussion …………………………………………………………………………… 27

4.1 Descriptive Statistics …………………………………………………………………………………. 27

4.2 Regression Analyses …………………………………………………………………………………. 29

4.3 References ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 32

Chapter 5  Conclusions …………………………………………………………………………………………. 33

Appendix A  Student Survey ………………………………………………………………………………….. 35 Appendix B  Demographics of Participants ………………………………………………………………. 37

Appendix C  Correlation Studies …………………………………………………………………………….. 38

Chapter 1

 

Introduction

This thesis focuses on understanding college students’ motivation to learn science. Specifically, the research examines how students’ personal characteristics and feedback received influence a number of items, including, science self-efficacy, attitude (i.e., course recommendation), and satisfaction in general chemistry. Chapter 1 aims to contextualize the body of work this thesis represents. The chapter begins by discussing the significance of conducting research in the area of student motivation and formative feedback. Towards the end of the chapter, the research goals and questions are provided, and finally, an overview of the thesis is presented.

1.1 Overarching Problem

Introductory general chemistry is a required course for numerous majors. At most institutions, enrollment largely consists of students outside of the college of science (ACS Committee on Professional Training, 2005). A significant number of students who attempt introductory general chemistry have to drop the course. These students must either retake the course or change their major. It is reported that the rate of failures, dropouts, and repeats exceeds 30% for non-chemistry majors at most universities (Rowe, 1982). In some cases, attrition rates are as high as 50% in chemistry courses (Grove, Hershberger, & Bretz, 2008).

The concerning statistics do not end there. Further, the Committee on Science and Technology (2010) reports that half of all students who begin college majoring in the physical or biological sciences will drop out before their senior year, compared to the 30% drop out rate in the humanities or social sciences. According to the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, the United States is ranked 27 out of 29 countries for producing science bachelor’s degrees (2011).

Research suggests that students leave the science for a combination of reasons including:

loss of interest in subject matter, feeling overwhelmed with difficult course content, and the potential for better educational opportunities in other disciplines (Committee on Science and Technology, 2010). Seymour and Hewitt (1997) propose that students leave science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines for other disciplines perceived to be more supportive, less competitive, and have increased opportunities for collaboration.

In addition, numerous reports indicate the introductory science courses themselves are a major barrier to student success and matriculation in STEM disciplines. Introductory science courses are traditionally organized in the lecture format, and often have hundreds of students enrolled in each section. According to Black and Deci (2000), the traditional model for undergraduate science courses operates as follows:

The unspoken assumption in the model seems to be that students will “sink or swim,” according to their innate ability and motivation. Although not well researched, the consequence of this approach often seems to be a Darwinian “weeding out” of those who appear unqualified for careers in medicine or science.

 

As Bradforth, Miller and colleagues (2015) explain, these “weed out” courses and traditional teaching practices contribute greatly to attrition in STEM fields. Similarly, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2012) argues that undergraduate STEM courses are neither providing students with high quality learning experiences, nor retaining students in these disciplines.

Student academic success in chemistry is most often related to cognitive factors such as prior experience (Tai, Sadler & Loehr, 2005; Lewis & Lewis, 2008), problem-solving ability

(Bhattacharyya & Bodner, 2005), and conceptual understanding (Grove, Hershberger & Bretz,

2008). While cognitive variables can be predictive of student success in chemistry, alone they are not sufficient. A considerable amount of research has shown that cognitive factors must be supplemented by motivational or affective factors. In the 2012 Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER) report, the National Research Council outlines the importance of  studying factors that affect student motivation to initially engage in, and then, to persist in the learning in science in order to improve undergraduate science education

Students’ personal characteristics (e.g., intrinsic motivation) and the learning environment (e.g., quality of instruction, and/or feedback and other assistance provided by the instructor and assistants in instruction in a large science classroom) influence a variety of student outcomes. The study reported in this thesis explores the relationship among motivation and classroom factors, and science self-efficacy, course recommendation and student satisfaction.

1.2 Research Goals and Questions

There is a need in the chemical education community to understand students’ motivation toward learning chemistry in order to build stronger undergraduate science courses and raise student achievement. The main focus of this investigation is to examine the influence of motivation and the learning environment on science self-efficacy, attitude, and satisfaction in college chemistry.

Regression analyses were used to examine the predictors of science self-efficacy, recommendation, and satisfaction. The present study answers the following research questions.

What is the relationship among students’ personal characteristics and the learning environment, and:

  • Science self-efficacy
  • Course recommendation
  • Satisfaction

 

1.3 Organization of Thesis

This thesis is organized into five chapters. This chapter (Chapter 1) introduces the research described herein. The significance of the research is discussed, and the research goal and questions are presented.

Chapter 2 reviews the literature relevant to this research. In this chapter, a brief overview of social cognitive theory is presented, and several factors influencing student motivation are considered. A range of research findings related to formative feedback are discussed. This is followed by a discussion of previous students conducted involving learning assistants. Finally, a conceptual model of formative feedback and self-regulation using learning assistants is provided.

In Chapter 3, my research methodology is outlined. Chapter 4 presents the results. A discussion of my findings in made in reference to literature.

Finally, in Chapter 5, conclusions are drawn with regards to my research questions. The implications of my research are discussed. Critical points for future research are described. The chapter ends with a justification of my research’s contributions in the areas of student motivation and formative feedback.

 

1.4 References

American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Professional Training. (2005). Report on the

CPT Survey of 2001-2004 Enrollments in Selected Chemistry Courses. Washington, D.C.

Bhattacharyya, G., & Bodner, G. M. (2005). “It gets me to the product”: How students propose organic mechanisms. J. Chem. Educ., 82, 1402-1407.

Black, A. E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The effects of instructors’ autonomy support and students’ autonomous motivation on learning organic chemistry: A self-determination theory perspective. Sci. Educ., 84, 740-756.

Bradforth, S. E., Miller, E. R., Dichtel, W. R., Leibovich, A. K., Feig, A. L., Martin, J. D., Bjorkman, K. S., Schultz, Z. D., & Smith, T. L. (2015). University learning: Improve undergraduate science education. Nature, 523, 282-284.

Committee on Science and Technology. (2010). Hearing charter: Strengthening undergraduate and graduate STEM education. Washington, D.C.

Grove, N. P., Hershberger, J. W., & Bretz, S. L. (2008). Impact of a spiral organic curriculum on student attrition and learning. Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 9, 157.

Lewis, S. E., & Lewis, J. E. (2007). Predicting at-risk students in general chemistry: Comparing formal thought to a general achievement measure. Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 8, 32.

National Research Council. (2012). Discipline-based educational research: Understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Stud. High. Educ., 31, 199-218.

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (2012). Engage to excel: Producing one million additional college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Washington, D.C.

“Rising Above the Gathering Storm” Committee. (2011). Rising above the gathering storm. Washington, D.C.

Rowe, M. B. (1982). Getting Chemistry off the killer course list. Presented at the American

Chemical Society Meeting, Las Vegas, NV.

Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Tai, R. H., Sadler, P. M., & Loehr, J. F. (2005). Factors influencing success in introductory college chemistry. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 46, 1070-1089.

ANALYSIS OF STUDENTS’ MOTIVATIONAL AND AFFECTIVE BELIEFS IN GENERAL CHEMISTRY

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