STALKING THE SECOND TIER: STRATEGIES TO ATTRACT AND RETAIN MORE MAJORS AND IMPROVE STUDENT LEARNING
We studied 4064 students taking intro geology at 14 schools (community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, and large MS and PhD granting colleges and universities). Although talking about good and bad teaching is common, our data show that instructor characteristics only directly account for <10% of student learning. Student characteristics, both cognitive and affective (especially motivation), are much more significant. The importance of motivation is greatest for second tier students. We used SAT/ACT scores as proxies to divide students into tiers of cognitive ability and found that motivated second tier students perform as well as first tier students. SAT/ACT scores predict 20% of the variance in student grades, student expectancy predicts 5%, and student value another 2%.
Instructors have only limited impact on student cognitive skills, but have potentially huge impacts on student motivation. Indirectly, we can improve student learning and retention by improving student motivation. Most importantly, we must help students: 1) value what they are learning, 2) have confidence in their abilities to do well, and 3) develop self-reflection and other metacognitive skills. Traditional classrooms do not promote these desirable characteristics, but innovative, student-centered classrooms do. Average students in intro geology classes lose motivation during a semester. First tier students lose less than second tier students, no matter what the teaching approach. The difference is stark in instructor-centered classrooms but significantly less in student centered classrooms. The impacts of student-centered instruction multiply -- for maximum effect, students must encounter reformed teaching in multiple classrooms.