Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 8:45 AM


PERKINS, Dexter1, WIRTH, Karl R.2, MCCONNELL, David3, BYKERK-KAUFFMAN, Ann4, GILBERT, Lisa A.5, STEMPIEN, Jennifer A.6, MATHENEY, Ronald K.1, BUDD, David A.6, VAN DER HOEVEN KRAFT, Katrien J.7 and PUTKONEN, Jaakko8, (1)Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Engineering, University of North Dakota, MS 8358, Grand Forks, ND 58202-8358, (2)Geology Department, Macalester College, Saint Paul, MN 55105, (3)Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, (4)Geological and Environmental Sciences, California State Univ, Chico, 400 W. 1st St, Chico, CA 95929-0205, (5)Williams-Mystic and Geosciences, Williams College, 75 Greenmanville Ave, Mystic, CT 06355, (6)Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, 2200 Colorado Ave, Boulder, CO 80309, (7)Physical Sciences, Whatcom Community College, 237 W. Kellogg Road, Bellingham, WA 98226, (8)Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Engineering, University of North Dakota, 81 Cornell St, Grand Forks, ND 58202,

In 1990, Sheila Tobias published They’re Not Dumb, They’re Different. The subtitle was Stalking the Second Tier. Tobias observed that many students (first tier) will succeed no matter how we teach, but many others will only succeed if we adjust our approach to teaching. This second group, the second tier, is a student population that could be a key part of our futures. Unless we adjust and teach for them, we do not meet our obligations as teachers, we lose potentially excellent students, our programs do not thrive as they might, and we don't produce necessary professionals for the geoscience workforce.

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.