Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 10:20 AM


LUKES, Laura A., Marine, Earth, & Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, 2800 Faucette Dr, 1125 Jordan Hall; NCSU, Raleigh, NC 27695 and MCCONNELL, David, Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695,

The student experience in the first two years of college has been identified as a critical tipping point for persistence in STEM (PCAST 2012). While there have been numerous studies that focus on the positive results of using research-based teaching methods in introductory STEM courses, little data has been collected about the student experience in STEM courses, especially in the geosciences. There is a need to understand why some students succeed and persist in STEM fields and others do not. The aim of this study was to capture and characterize student perception of their motivation to engage and employ learning strategies in introductory geology courses. Students (n=74) enrolled in introductory physical geology courses at 5 different institutions (7 instructors at 2 research universities and 3 community colleges) completed a modified version of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire and were interviewed about various aspects of their motivation and learning strategies in geology. Interviews were conducted in person (22-76 minutes in length) using a semi-structured format. A subpopulation of interview data (n=42) was analyzed using an iterative, recursive grounded theory approach. The resulting emergent themes include student goal orientation and emotion. All students indicated a performance goal orientation (e.g., engaging in a learning task as a means to an end, such as grades) with only about a third also indicating a mastery goal orientation (e.g., the learning task itself serves as an end, such as satisfying curiosity), suggesting that the content of summative assessments (e.g., exams) plays a critical role in student learning strategy choices. About a third indicated they were motivated by positive emotions (e.g., seeking pride and/or joy) and over half to avoid negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, guilt, shame, self-disappointment). To examine this further, student data about avoiding negative emotions was separated into high and low performing subpopulations. Results (80% of high performing students and 32% of low performing students) indicate that emotions may play a more important role in student success than previously thought. The motivational insights resulting from this study have implications for course design and the strategies instructors choose to interact with their students.