Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Engaging Students and Evaluating Learning Progress Using Collaborative Exams in Introductory Courses

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Engaging Students and Evaluating Learning Progress Using Collaborative Exams in Introductory Courses

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Collaborative exams, with subsections in which students have an opportunity to work with each other, are not yet widely used in introductory geoscience courses. This type of exam structure, with other participatory teaching strategies, was employed in two different courses, and results were found to provide a sensitive and revealing tool for analyzing the progress of students' individual and collaborative learning throughout the semester. A somewhat different implementation of the collaborative exams in each course showed that overall student performance was significantly improved compared to performance in the individual part, even for middle and highest-achieving thirds of the student population, and progressive improvements in performance were followed through the semester. The implementation of collaborative exams in the first course involved an aspect of exam grading that provided an incentive for collaboration: the "jackpot effect", which provided insight into the dynamics of peer interaction. The simpler implementation in the second course used a different approach in which the collaborative tests were less important to the total class grade, but also showed improvement in students' individual performance. Wider application of these methods could make a critical difference in reversing student apathy toward science in colleges and universities.

INTRODUCTION

"The instructor is a good professor, just the course itself was not of interest to me." This sentiment, expressed on an end-of-semester teaching evaluation for an introductory environmental science course at Queens College, unfortunately characterizes a large fraction of student attitudes towards science at many U.S. colleges and universities. The National Research Council has recognized the critical need for science literacy among the United States citizenry in the 21st century (National Research Council, 1996). More recent studies have highlighted the connection between science literacy and national security or the economic future of this country (National Academy of Science, 2005) and proposed a national action plan for the U.S. education system to meet these needs (National Science Board, 2007). The U.S. system of primary and secondary education does not do a particularly good job of preparing students for learning science at the college level, as indicated by recent scores on the international TTMSS tests compared to other countries (Gonzales et al., 2004), yet undergraduate college is the last stage in formal education for most Americans. It is imperative that introductory courses in science at the college level generate enough interest to captivate what has been called the "second tier" (Felder, 1993) of students who have the ability to do so, but elect not to enter careers in fields of science. Moreover, even if students are not interested in science as a profession, a scientifically educated citizenry is essential to future decisionmaking through our representative democratic system of government. Wider application of innovative college teaching methods is needed to combat the current apathy about science expressed by the student quoted above. This paper focuses on innovative collaborative exam implementation and results for two geoscience classes at Queens College.

The college science requirements at Queens College benefit the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Queens College because students perceive, somewhat incorrectly, that "environmental science" or "geology" must be easier than the "hard" traditional sciences of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, so they flock to our introductory courses that meet the requirement of one lab course and one non-lab course in science. Two of these geoscience courses will be discussed here. ENSCI111: Introduction to the Environment is a lecture and laboratory course that fills the dual need for an introduction to the major courses, and satisfies the college requirements for a science lab course. …

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