GENERATING CONTENT KNOWLEDGE GAINS THAT STICK: CRACKING THE CODE IN A FIELD-BASED WATER QUALITY COURSE
Primary data collection during the first two offerings of the course (Fall 2009 and Fall 2010) included experience, attitude, and knowledge instruments and a series of four semi-structured interviews with approximately 25% of enrolled students. The multiple-choice knowledge instrument functioned as a pre-/post-test, assessing students’ knowledge of lake systems and relevant biogeochemistry. As measured by this instrument, students enrolled during the first two offerings of the course demonstrated substantial content knowledge gains – a 57% mean gain in 2009 and a 43.5% mean gain in 2010.
As we considered these content knowledge gains, several research questions emerged: (1) Which aspects of the course might be responsible for promoting these knowledge gains? (2) Might student engagement be connected to knowledge gained in some way? (3) Are these gains durable? These questions generated several changes in the data collection procedure for the third and fourth offerings of course (Fall 2011 and Fall 2012). The attitude survey was eliminated and an engagement survey (deployed five times over the course of the semester) was added. Further, semi-structured interviews included both content- and engagement-related questions/probes. In addition to deploying the content knowledge instrument pre- and post-course, we deployed it again approximately four months after the conclusion of the course (along with an abbreviated experience survey). After completing these two instruments, students participated in a final semi-structured interview.
Here, we will focus on content knowledge gained and retained by students in the third and fourth offerings of the course and the specific aspects of the course that students report affect their engagement with the course and its content.