Affect matters: Incorporating psychological variables significantly affects predictions of student success in a large introductory biology course
Pedagogy in science classrooms are undergoing a nationwide transformation largely due to seminal reports like Vision and Change and BIO2010. Refereed publications have also provided scientific substance to the benefits of incorporating active approaches within the classroom as a means to increase learning. At a slightly different time scale, research in educational psychology have quantified the potential negative academic effects for students due to issues relating to social belonging and identity contingencies. A number of studies investigating the effects off active learning have limited their analysis to in-class activities, and have failed to explicitly consider how affect might augment the effects of their approaches. Unfortunately, literature combining our understanding of these two constructs within the context of the college classroom is only recently beginning to emerge. In this study, we used data from a high-enrollment introductory biology course taught at a large, public state institution. The course was taught in a hybrid style where students were required to view lectures posted on a learning management system (LMS) and prepare readings before class. Class time was spent doing a combination of interrupted lecture, problem-solving in groups, and other activities specifically chosen to address the learning outcomes for each period. In addition, the instructor used a reflective assignment that the literature indicates help students with issues around identity and social belonging. Students were asked to write their career goal and reasons why they chose that particular field. Data was collected about all students on ethnic demographics, high school GPA, SAT score, grades in individual assignments and final grades. Text from the reflective assignments was also analyzed for emergent themes that students used to address the prompt. Principle Components Analysis was then used to determine groups of variables that acted in a similar fashion. We then used a Hierarchical Linear regression to determine the variables that best predicted student performance in the class.
Students whose reflection discussed pressure from extended family, or perceived pressure because of a stereotype associated with their identity were more likely to perform at a C (70%) or lower in the course. This prediction held regardless of the incoming academic credentials of the student. Students who were underrepresented minorities were more likely to fall into this category. Our results indicate that in the design of college course curricula, instructors need to consider the role that affect plays in academic performance, especially for large introductory gateway courses.