Rocky Mountain Section - 64th Annual Meeting (9–11 May 2012)
Paper No. 1-4
Presentation Time: 9:30 AM-9:45 AM

“THIS IS NOT A WEED COURSE”: REDUCING ATTRITION IN A REQUIRED, UPPER-LEVEL EARTH SCIENCE COURSE

EMERMAN, Steven H., Department of Earth Science, Utah Valley University, 800 W. University Parkway, Orem, UT 84058, StevenE@uvu.edu

Hydrology I is taught every semester at Utah Valley University and is a required course for majors in both Environmental Management and Geology. Prior to Fall 2010, the mean passing rate in the course was 29% (SD = 4%) with a mean enrollment of N = 19 (SD = 6). In all cases, students who did not pass either formally withdrew or simply stopped coming to class and completing assignments. In Fall 2010, when the enrollment peaked at N = 28, the course was reorganized with the intention of reducing the attrition rate. The root cause of attrition was identified as the fear and frustration that students experienced while attempting to solve problem sets on their own. In-class lectures and out-of-class problem sets were replaced with out-of-class reading assignments and in-class group problem-solving with coaching by the instructor. Some of the in-class problems were calculations with one correct answer, while others were essentially role-playing scenarios in which multiple approaches were possible and expected. The Fall 2010 class earned a record passing rate of 71%, followed by passing rates of 89% and 86% in Spring 2011 and Fall 2011, respectively. At the end of each course, students were surveyed with the question: “Did you ever consider dropping this course? If so, why did you consider dropping the course and why did you decide not to drop the course?” The vast majority of respondents (93%) have stated that they never considered dropping the course and the most frequent (25%) explanation has been some version of “The course was interesting” followed by versions of “I need the course for my career plans” (12.5%), “The course is required for the degree” (12.5%), and “I enjoy a challenge / I am not a quitter” (12.5%). A sample explanation has been “No, I find the subject very interesting. The class was involving and it used applications in real world settings. I learned a lot about hydrology and ways to benefit the less fortunate.” The tentative conclusion is that students will focus on the interesting aspects of a subject if their frustration level can be effectively managed. Another consequence of the course reorganization is that, beginning in Spring 2011, the mean enrollment has dropped to N = 10 (SD = 2) as students are no longer enrolling in the course repeatedly until they pass.

Rocky Mountain Section - 64th Annual Meeting (9–11 May 2012)
General Information for this Meeting

Handouts:

Session No. 1
Geoscience Education: Current Practice and Research I
Hotel Albuquerque: Alvarado C
8:30 AM-12:00 PM, Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 44, No. 6, p. 2

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