Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Formative Assessment and Its Influence on Classroom Community in Biocalculus

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Formative Assessment and Its Influence on Classroom Community in Biocalculus

Article excerpt

Most of the attrition from STEM majors occurs between the first two semesters of calculus, and prospective life science majors are one of the groups with the highest attrition rate. One of the largest factors for students that persist in STEM major beyond the first semester of calculus was a sense of community and a perceived connection with their instructor. Since building a sense of community is one of the stated purposes of formative assessment, we investigated how instructor and student perceptions of the purpose of formative assessment contributed to the formation of classroom community in a calculus for life science course. This qualitative ethnographic case study examined two cases of formative assessment used in difference sections. Although formative assessments have been found to increase a sense of classroom community, students and instructors reported that this was only the case when both the student's and instructors' beliefs about the purposes of formative assessments agreed. Keywords: Calculus, Classroom Community, Formative Assessment, Taken-As-Shared

Students who have a poor perception of their quality of relationships with their instructors are more anxious, earn lower grades, are less likely to seek assistance, and are more likely to cheat on assignments during their first year (de Guzman, Hodgson, Robert, & Villani, 1998; Kurland & Siegel, 2013; Nadelson et al., 2013). The first year of college is also where the largest number of students switch out of a STEM major, and this switch is most likely to occur after calculus (Ellis, Kelton, & Rasmussen, 2014; Worthley, Gloeckner, & Kennedy, 2016) Biology majors are most likely to switch majors after calculus (Ellis, Kelton, & Rasmussen, 2014; Rasmussen, Marrongelle, & Borba, 2014), but students who passed calculus who perceived a personal connection with their instructor are less likely to switch.

While creating a positive classroom environment where students feel personally connected to their teachers would likely boost individual learning, since students then feel more comfortable asking peers for help where they may be reluctant to ask their instructor (Salomon & Perkins, 1998), it is also very difficult for instructors, even experienced ones with a great deal of pedagogical content knowledge, to establish norms conducive to class participation in group work and discussions (Speer & Wagner, 2009). One possible avenue for establishing participation norms to build such a class environment is formative assessments, which are low stakes assignments that are graded on completion and used for instructor planning purposes. These brief assignments can create a communication loop between instructor and student, even in large classes, and is a non-labor intensive way to address post-calculus STEM attrition (Clark, 2011; Shute, 2008; Wiliam, 2009). Formative assessment has also been identified as a high leverage practice with minimal instructor burden in undergraduate science education, so students in classes geared for science majors are likely to be familiar with these practices (Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe, 2012).

Literature Review

Transition to College

The primary transition course for STEM majors is introductory calculus; most students who enroll in this gateway course are highly motivated and believe they are well prepared for the experience (Bressoud, Carlson, Mesa, & Rasmussen, 2013). One potential challenge in the post-No Child Left Behind era in the United States is that although students believe they are well prepared, the emphasis on standardized testing has placed a great deal of emphasis on surface learning, which leaves students unready to make connections between concepts in their initial undergraduate mathematics courses (Gueudet, 2008; Selden, 2005; Selden & Selden, 2002). Hence, without accounting for the system in which students learned mathematics in during high school, students are more likely than ever to struggle with the transition to college and the advanced mathematical thinking needed to be successful in courses beyond calculus (Kajander & Lovric, 2005; Selden & Selden, 2002; Tall, 2008). …

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