Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

What Motivates Introductory Geology Students to Study for an Exam?

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

What Motivates Introductory Geology Students to Study for an Exam?

Article excerpt


The United States is facing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) workforce shortage (President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST], 2012). Nearly half of college-level STEM majors switch to nonmajors within the first two years of their college experience (Strenta et al., 1994; Seymour and Hewitt, 1997). Much of this workforce demand can be met if we can reduce the STEM attrition rate by just 10% (PCAST, 2012). It is therefore important to understand why students are leaving STEM fields like geology, so that intentional changes can be made to improve retention.

Why are students leaving STEM? Many students identify dissatisfaction with their introductory STEM classes as a primary factor in their leaving STEM (Tobias, 1990; Seymour and Hewitt, 1997). In other words, if a student with a geology major takes an introductory geology course and has a negative experience, they are likely to change majors and leave STEM altogether. In addition, student experiences in introductory geology courses have been identified as critical gateway for attracting geology majors (Levine, 2007; Houlton, 2010; Wilson, 2013). Compared to other STEM fields, the student experience in college level introductory geology courses is doubly important, not only for retaining existing majors, but also for attracting new students to the discipline.

Before the student experience can be improved, we need to first establish a baseline for the features of that experience. There has been a notable body of work in discipline-based education research in the STEM fields over the last 30 years (National Research Council [NRC], 2012) that has focused on student cognition (e.g., teaching practices and learning gains, metacognition) but less attention has been paid to student affect (NRC, 2012). Research on the affective domain of the student experience (e.g., emotions, attitudes, motivation, values) is gaining recognition for its critical role in student engagement and is emerging as a key area of interest in the field (van der Hoeven Kraft et al., 2011; NRC, 2012). This study is part of the large-scale collaborative efforts of the Geoscience Affective Research Network (GARNET), which aims to measure affect among students in introductory geology courses across the United States (Gilbert et al., 2012). In this study we explore and characterize what motivates university and community college students to prepare for an exam in an introductory geology course. We report the results of a series of student interviews that investigate some aspects of student motivation associated with exam preparation in introductory geology courses. Further, we discuss the importance of student emotion as an additional driver of study behaviors.

Why is it Important to Understand Student Motivation?

What do we mean by motivation? While there is much debate surrounding the definition and nature of motivation, here we define motivation as a "process whereby goaldirected activities are instigated and sustained" (Schunk et al., 2013, 5). In other words, motivation is an excited internal state that involves the beliefs and/or emotions that someone holds and results in strategy use and behaviors that aim to avoid or seek something. Some students may arrive at this state driven by factors such as an interest in the topic, by a sense of academic self-preservation, and/or through the encouragement of family, peers, and/or the instructor. Others will struggle to develop motivation in some educational environments and this will hamper their efforts to achieve learning goals. Whatever the cause, motivation, both in and out of the classroom, is critical to student learning in any domain including the geosciences (van der Hoeven Kraft et al., 2011). Models of student learning (e.g., Pintrich and Zusho, 2007) indicate that motivational processes drive student action, such as studying for an exam, and can positively mediate learning outcomes (e. …

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