PS 74-130 - Potential impacts of anxiety on student persistence and success

Friday, August 11, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
Margaurete Romero, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Knoxville, TN, Benjamin England, Biology Division, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN and Elisabeth E. Schussler, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee - Knoxville, Knoxville, TN

Efforts to reform undergraduate teaching in biology have occurred with the intention of promoting higher student success and retention in STEM courses. However, as instructors move to more active practices in the classroom, students may be experiencing anxiety associated with the active classrooms. Research in our lab found that 16% of students reported experiencing anxiety in introductory biology courses (ie Ecology and Organismal Biology as well as Cellular Biology) that recently introduced active learning. This anxiety could interfere with the success and retention of students in biology. Having a better understanding of how anxiety impacts students over their introductory course sequence is important to support student learning and retention in biology. This project investigated (1) how student anxiety changed over a two semester introductory biology sequence at a large research university and (2) the implications of this anxiety on student persistence and success. The participants were students enrolled in the introductory biology sequence over the 2016-2017 academic year. Students who completed 3 anxiety surveys were the final participants (N = 72). Students responded to validated items measuring their levels of general, test, communication, and social anxiety. Data regarding student final course grade, self-efficacy, and major were also collected.


Repeated measures ANOVAs revealed that general class anxiety (F=3.440, p<0.05) and communication anxiety (F=12.718, p<0.01) significantly decreased from end of fall semester to beginning of spring semester, and self-efficacy increased from end of fall to beginning of spring semester (F=21.105, p<0.01). General class anxiety levels increased as student final fall semester grade decreased (F=17.399, p<0.01), and students starting (t=-2.618, p < 0.05) and ending (t=-4.599, p<0.01) the fall semester with significantly higher anxiety were less likely to persist in the major. This study reports on anxiety level changes in students across introductory sequences and show that students with high anxiety are vulnerable to attrition. The results can inform instructors in reformed classrooms about the trends and potential impacts of anxiety their students may experience.