Enhancing retention in introductory biology courses by emphasizing learning strategies

Saturday, 14 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Joyce J. Fernandes, Miami University, Oxford, OH
A supplemental course was designed to emphasize learning strategies to benefit students in an introductory biology course. The impacts of this course on studnet grades was assess using quantitative and qualitative methods. For the quantitative analysis, exam performance was assessed by comparing grades with students who did not take the class. The analysis was conducted over 4 consecutive semesters (178 students), examining C/D/F grades between the control and experimental groups.Qualitative ana;ysis was conducted through interviews to identify common themes in regard to challenges perceived in the introductory biology class, attributes of the supplemental course that were useful to overcome the challenges, and to determine if there were any changes in study habits.  Over 4 semesters, the mean grades (C/D/F) differed significantly for the first exam (Control: 64.5; Exp: 61.5; p<0.05) between the two groups, and the gap was eliminated by the final exam (Control: 66.25; Exp: 66.5). The total number of exams varied from 3-5 across the four semesters. In regard to challenges of the introductory course the majority of students indicated lack of appropriate study habits and approaches (100%), inability to interact with resources provided (79%), and a vague idea of expectations of the course (71%). Some students indicated lack of self-assessment as a learner (29%). As a result of taking the supplemental course, students identified the following changes they had made: establishing connections among concepts (79%), and taking the time to make their own notes as part of the studying process (57%). A large number of students indicated that the course enabled them to change their study habits (86%), and to use them in other courses. In summary, a supplemental course designed to emphasize regular study habits and how to use a range of study strategies was successful in improving performance in an introductory biology course. This study has implications for developing study skills and strategies prior to entering college and to engage instructors of introductory courses to consider avenues to enable student performance and ultimately retention in introductory biology courses.