Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Tools for Success: A Study of the Resources and Study Habits of General Chemistry I Students at Two Community Colleges

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Tools for Success: A Study of the Resources and Study Habits of General Chemistry I Students at Two Community Colleges

Article excerpt

Student retention in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields faces a myriad of challenges, as many STEM majors choose different career paths in the early years of study (Higher Education Research Institute, 2010; Koenig, Schen, Edwards, & Bao, 2012; Watkins & Mazur, 2013). In addition, the two-year college setting is a special environment that hosts a variety of learners from many walks of life and educational backgrounds (Bailey, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005; Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2008; Calcagno, Bailey, Jenkins, Kienzl, & Leinbach, 2008; Goldrick-Rab, 2010). Many two-year college instructors, including the authors of this study, go to great lengths developing instructional resources and tools for their students. Shrinking budgets require departments to make difficult decisions regarding the resources they offer; the question is, do students actually use them?

This project aimed to identify the resources used by two-year college General Chemistry I students and the frequency with which such tools are used. How do chemistry students at two-year colleges study? What strategies do these students use to succeed in chemistry? What beliefs about efficacy do students hold, and how do these views change through the semester? Chemistry anxiety can influence retention, student attitudes, and classroom learning (Bauer, 2008; Chan & Bauer, 2014; Eddy, 2000; Oliver-Hoyo & Allen, 2005; Xu & Lewis, 2011). Widanski and McCarthy (2009) studied anxiety toward chemistry at two-year schools specifically and recommended that chemistry uneasiness be addressed head-on. Thus, a variety of factors were studied in this project: study habits, resources used, efficacy beliefs, and general satisfaction. Final exam grades and overall course grades were also considered. Data were collected at two unrelated two-year colleges in two states, with the hope that understanding the attitudes, resources, and study strategies of General Chemistry I students will allow faculty, advisors, retention coordinators, and learning centers' staff to make more informed decisions, better retain students, and help them succeed in STEM fields.

This action research methodology is not and should not be limited to chemistry courses only. The authors believe that such a method could be used in any college course to gather information on how students use the tools at their disposal. This methodology could also be used in department evaluation to analyze the student experience through a particular course or program.


Wabash Valley College (WVC) is a small, public, open-enrollment two-year college in southeastern Illinois, and during the project, General Chemistry I was taught by one instructor. Vincennes University (VU) has a larger total population, but is also a public, open-enrollment institution primarily offering two-year degrees plus some four-year degrees as well. At VU, located in southwestern Indiana, General Chemistry I was taught by two instructors, of which only one instructor's students were sampled in the project because of access considerations. Student identities, grades, and personal information were not obtained; data were collected via surveys, for which students earned a small number of bonus points for completing. Offering trivial numbers of bonus points to incentivize student participation in voluntary surveys is considered common practice; the primary author has used this technique (Bruck, 2010). Names were removed from the data by the authors after bonus points were awarded to allow for anonymous analysis by the primary author.

The Learning Management System (LMS) at each campus was heavily used. At WVC, the LMS was Desire to Learn, and at VU, it was Blackboard. Although these LMSs differ in many ways, their capacities to effectively house and display course content were comparable. Studying the use of resources was a key component of the project, and use of both instructor-made and traditional tools was tracked. …

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