Understanding Our Science Students – Motivations, Attitudes and Work Ethic

Grant programDewey Fellowship Program

Grant recipient: Jamie Mulholland, Department of Mathematics,

Project team: Megan Barker, Department of Biological Sciences, Tatiana Popovitskaia, research assistant, and Daria Ahrensmeier, Teaching and Learning Centre

Timeframe: September 2016 to December 2017

Funding: $8,000

Courses addressed: First and second year science courses

Description: This project aims to provide departments and instructors with better understanding of first and second year science students (Math/Bio/Phys/Chem/Stats).

How do instructors’ assumptions and expectations of students align with student’s assumptions and expectations? Are we as teachers out of touch with our students? Do we understand who our students are and what they need as learners in our classes?

As instructors we make many assumptions about our students, such as:

Many students

·      don’t read the textbook or other reference materials,

·      don’t know what or who homework is for,

·      don’t attend class,

·      are distracted by personal use of technology in the classroom,

·      don’t take comprehensive notes,

·      spend more time watching youtube videos than using assigned course resources.

These assumptions form the basis of many pedagogical decisions so it is very important to check how they match up to reality. For example, in-class quizzes replace hand-in homework when instructors perceive students think homework is just to receive a grade and focus on answers over understanding. Some instructors ban electronic devices from classes unless students sign an “appropriate use” policy, while others have students sign a class roster during class to take attendance.

The focus of this project will be on quality assurance and quality improvement of course offerings in science. Through instructor focus groups interviews, and student one-on-one interviews and surveys, the data collected will provide suggestions and recommendations in a report for decision makers (Undergraduate Studies Committees, Chairs, Dean) who make decisions about course/program design and delivery. Information that is connected with smaller changes in classroom organization and administration will be used to provide suggestions to instructors via the Teaching Matters Seminar. This information will also allow instructors to be better prepared to advise students on their learning choices.

Questions addressed:

  • What resources (online, required, and recommended) do students frequently use for their science classes? Why? Are they satisfied that those resources work well for them?
  • What are the reasons why students do homework? (i.e. to earn a grade, to prepare for exams, to learn, etc.) Are they satisfied with their effort they put into their homework?
  • What factors affect student’s attending class in face-to-face classes?
  • How do students organize themselves in a course? (Canvas, their own calendar, journal, time management apps, etc.)
  • What factors affect student’s course selection?

Knowledge sharing: Dissemination will be done at two levels: (i) to course/program decision makers in the Faculty of Science, (ii) to individual course instructors.

For (i), we will be providing a summary of the final report to Undergraduate Studies Committee’s in each department. We will provide short presentations at departments meetings in various departments (provided our offers are accepted).

As for (ii), we will be discussing and sharing results with instructors from the Faculty of Science through the Teaching Matters seminar in a workshop setting, as well as the annual SFU Teaching and Learning Symposium.

Keywords: Student survey, student interviews, faculty interviews, student study habits, student perspectives