Recent Findings from GARNET Research
The GARNET project seeks to better understand student experiences in our introductory geology classes and how we can attempt to improve their attitudes and motivations toward learning by examining three overarching questions: (1) Who are the students enrolling in our introductory geology classrooms? (2) What, if any, relationship is there between learning environments and learning outcomes? (3) What, if any, relationship is there between learning environments and our students' motivation? Results from two recent studies and an early case study are briefly summarized below.
Impact of Instructional Quality on Student Self-Beliefs, Executive Functioning and Internal Drive in Introductory Geoscience Classes
To examine the research questions below, we developed a hypothetical baseline measurement model (figure 1) using MSLQ variables that we thought pertinent for our study. In our model, we propose that students' level of Executive Function, as measured by the MSLQ variables of effort regulation and metacognition, is a direct result of their individual Internal Drive, as measured by MSLQ variables of Intrinisc goal orientation and task value, and their Self-Beliefs, as measured by the MSLQ variables of control of beliefs and self-efficacy. We then used Chi-Square goodness of fit test and confirmatory factor analysis to evaluate the consistency of the model with our pre and post survey data.
The fit of the baseline model with the both the pre and post data was excellent (Pre: χ²(6, N=602) = 39.70., p < .001; CFI = .980, SRMR = .028, Post: χ²(6, N=602) = 41.016., p < .001; CFI = .981, SRMR = .029). The Δχ2 was not significant, Δχ2 = 1.3; p > .05 and the ΔCFI did not exceed our established cutoff value (ΔCFIobs = .001 < ΔCFIest = .01). All factor loadings in both models exceeded .70 and were significant at α < .05; parameter estimates for the pre data between self-beliefs and executive functioning (.31) and internal drive and executive functioning (.54) were significant at α < .05. Parameter estimates for the post data between self-beliefs and executive functioning (.46) and internal drive and executive functioning (.43) were significant at α < .05. The evidence suggested that our hypothesized baseline structure was equivalent across survey administrations.
Study Questions and Results
The mean scores for students' self-beliefs, executive functioning and internal drive were significantly greater at the beginning of the semester than at the end of the semester. In simpler terms, as a group (N=602) students' self-beliefs, executive functioning and internal drive all decrease as the semester progresses. However, on an individual student by student basis there are some significant differences.See below.
Overall, more students' showed a decline in each of the three parameters over the course of the semester.
- Self-beliefs - 57.5% showed a decrease whereas 42.5% showed an increase over the semester.
- Executive functioning– 56.1% showed a decrease whereas 44.9% showed an increase over the semester.
- Internal drive –55.5% showed a decrease whereas 45.5% showed an increase over the semester.
A series of univariate ANOVA's between RTOP scores (instructional quality) and average decrease in self-beliefs, executive functioning and internal drive revealed mixed results.The ANOVA for self-beliefs was significant F(2,602) = 3.34; p=0.036, however the strength of the relationship between instructional quality and self-beliefs was found to be weak (r2 = 0.01).The ANOVA's for executive functioning F(2,602) = 2.33 p=0.098 and internal drive F(2,602) = 0.64; p=0.053 were not significant.
Follow-up tests were conducted to compare instructional quality (RTOP score groups –high, medium, low scores) with students' self-beliefs, executive functioning and internal drive.The high RTOP score group had less decrease in students' self-beliefs, executive functioning and internal drive than the medium RTOP score groups.
Independent samples t-tests revealed three findings:
(1) that students who demonstrated increases in self-beliefs, executive functioning and internal drive were significantly more likely than those who demonstrated decreases to report an interest in geology after the class.
(2) students who demonstrated increases in self-beliefs and internal drive were significantly more likely than those who demonstrated decreases to report a desire to take more geology courses after the class.
(3) students who demonstrated increases in executive functioning were not significantly more likely than those who demonstrated decreases to report a desire to take more geology courses after the class.
In introductory classes researchers can expect to see overall decreases in student engagement because at this point in their careers many have already focused on a future path. However, changes in increasers predominantly has to do with impact on students sense of self because the future path they have chosen is related to the course and building control leads to increased work ethic.
Moreover, when considering their role as instructors, post-secondary introductory section geology instructors may benefit from conceptualizing improved instructional strategies as a method of 1) buffering against overall decline in student motivation for students at the group level and 2) improving students self-beliefs – i.e. self-efficacy and identity – at the individual level.
Creators of the RTOP argue that teachers should implement instructional strategies that improve student active learning and engagement as well as create an overall warm educational climate for students. It appears these strategies, when implemented at the post-secondary level in introductory geology courses, can reduce the overall course level decline in motivation one can expect to see in this type of course, as well as help individual students with well-developed internal drive build a positive sense of self for science.