Tuesday, March 2 • 2:50pm - 3:05pm
Talk Session 4: Student struggle in biological sciences

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Undergraduate student struggle in biology courses can be driven by a number of internal (e.g., academic preparation, anxiety) and external (e.g., paid work hours, extracurricular activities) factors. In this mixed-methods study, we explored the relative impacts of these forces across two semesters in large, introductory biology classes. Our study was unusual because we compared student experiences in a traditional (pre-COVID) semester to the semester defined by the pandemic and the emergency transition to remote instruction. First, we asked students whether they experienced struggle, and if so, if they overcame that struggle and how. Using thematic coding we categorized responses into (1) internal or external attribution and (2) applied categories for the causes of their struggle and means of overcoming it. We observed external factors in the classroom are often identified as the source of struggle, and internal factors are identified as driving the student’s ability to overcome. Second, using regression analysis, we examined which factors predicted student struggle, and of those who encountered struggle, whether they overcame it. We found that Anxiety Score, Semester (Spring 2020 vs. Fall 2019), and Average Exam Score predicted student struggle across these semesters and we found that Anxiety Score and Average Exam Score predicted whether they overcame struggle. These results show that anxiety may play a large role in how students encounter and overcome struggle in a course, and can provide guidance to instructors about factors that may or may not influence struggle in introductory biology courses.

avatar for Claire Tracy

Claire Tracy

PhD Student; Research Fellow, Auburn University
avatar for Jenna Pruett

Jenna Pruett

PhD Student, Auburn University
I am a PhD candidate in the Warner Lab at Auburn University. I am an evolutionary ecologist broadly interested in maternal effects and developmental plasticity. My current work is on reptile systems with a particular focus on how female nest choice affects development and fitness... Read More →

Tuesday March 2, 2021 2:50pm - 3:05pm CST