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Reading Reflection

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How would you describe your “research problem(s)” to the Research Scholars group?  

I will start by saying that I realize that my research problem is still in need of significant refinement. The question revolves around the best method of content delivery and assessment for the first semester of General Chemistry. This past academic year, I endeavored to use a Flipped Classroom for both the full year of General Chemistry with the hope that our typical problems with students changing majors due to difficulties in this course would abate and that student learning and engagement of this typically difficult first year course would improve. I received IRB approval to conduct student surveys for the past year on student satisfaction on this new mode of instruction and used ACS standardized exams as a benchmark to previous course offerings which were more traditional lecture delivery. The long and short of the collected data was that isn’t a clear answer or trend one way or another.  Perhaps that is because my question is still too big and nebulous. I want to improve STEM student retention and know nationwide and here at Viterbo that we see significant loss of students in the STEM majors after the first year of college and a significant factor in that loss is performance in first semester Gen Chem. More specifically, I am intrigued by the intersection of self-efficacy and the non academic skill of grit that Paul Tough talks about in his book, How Children Succeed. How might we help increase grit in students so that when they don’t perform well in that first test that they begin to look for a new major? And does a Viterbo's student grit correlate with persistance after a poor first exam? I also wonder if I change how I test towards a mastery approach if that assessment mode might aid student retention because of students not feeling completely defeated by a bad first exam. I want to improve student learning and student retention in my course and just honestly want to change a lot of things to try to “fix” this problem but realize that I should focus on a limited set of variables or interventions to try so I can actually collect useful data.   


What theme(s) based on your readings, resonate with your “problem” and/or your proposed approach to address your problem.


Much of the content presented in the Bass article resonates with the process I find myself in currently. I am by nature a reflective person and combined with my scientific training naturally am asking how I can make a course better, or how student learning could be improved. I taught Gen Chem for the first time last year so it is my latest “problem” that I find myself trying to understand and work through. I am still in the process of solidifying what is the most essential material and skills students should leave the course with as they progress through the curriculum and agree that this vision is important as I continue to revise the structure and format of the course.  


Based on Pat Hutchings article, what taxonomy would you use to describe your research question and why?


I think as a trained bench scientist, the question that fits how my mind works and therefore the type of problem I address is the “what works” type of question. In fact, I am not sure I completely understand how you structure the other two types of questions. It would be good for my own development to read more of these types of studies. I would categorize my question as a “what works” project because I am curious to explore what types of pedagogies/assessment/or course structure would help to increase student retention in a General Chemistry course.   

Do you have any questions/concerns/comments that have evolved from your reading? 

Two larger themes came up as a result of the readings. First, a genuine feeling of being overwhelmed and grossly underprepared for this type of work. I think that this same feeling is what motivated my application to this residency. I want to make SoTL projects more a part of my scholarship and think that efforts in this vein help me become a better professor and facilitator of student learning. But my training doesn’t always translate and sometimes I find it actually hinders my ability to study my teaching. As was pointed out, I am studying me, and human interactions are complex. I switched majors from Ecology to Molecular Biology because the Ecology was “too messy” in my words as a college student. I became overwhelmed by all of the variables that were in play (I am admittedly a control freak) and wanted something were just one variable could be changed and the effect studied. However with that said, I think our last reading helped calm some of my fears that I don’t have to become a full fledged educational researcher but a gradient exists where Classroom Action Research projects are publishable using a triangulation of data approach which I have already begun doing in my beginning forays into this type of work. I am excited to be on this journey of learning with a group of people equally excited about this type of research and look forward to the knowledge I will gain from each of you and through our conversations.  

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