Making Sense of Interest and Learning in Introductory Geology Courses: Teaching Assistant and Student Perspectives
How undergraduate students experience our introductory geoscience labs can have a profound effect on how much they learn and retain about our discipline, and how interested they are in learning more about it in the future. But what design features or characteristics do teaching assistants (TAs) and undergraduate students see as most likely to prompt interest and learning? This question may be particularly relevant in 2020-2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic shifted labs to online and hybrid environments. We present preliminary data from an ongoing study examining TA teaching beliefs, student interest, and student learning in introductory geoscience labs.
Data are drawn from five participating institutions during the F'20 and Sp'21 semesters. We collected pre- and post-semester content learning data and weekly interest data related to each lab from undergraduates in participating introductory geology lab sections. At the end of the semester, data was shared with teaching assistants in an interview setting. Preliminary results indicate that TAs perceive that student interest in lab activities is influenced by a wide range of factors, including relevance, students' personal experiences and prior knowledge, and the use of data or inquiry. Similarly, TAs attribute higher learning gains to similar factors, such as relevance, student engagement, collection or use of data and inquiry, and labs that are not too difficult or time-consuming. The recurring themes of relevance and inquiry are reinforced by students' responses when asked what would make their interest level in a given lab increase by one point on a five point scale. The most-cited approaches were "increased relevance or connection to my life experience or future career" (34% of responses) and "making a game out of the lab" (26% of responses). Where available, student interest data will be compared for the same labs taught face-to-face and online (e.g. Spring 2020 vs. 2021).