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IES Grant

Title: A Scalable Growth Mindset Intervention to Raise Achievement and Persistence in Community College
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Walton, Gregory Awardee: Stanford University
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (9/1/2015-8/31/2019) Award Amount: $3,410,421
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A150253

Co-Principal Investigators: Carol Dweck and Thomas Dee (Stanford University)

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to evaluate the impact of a short, psychological intervention intended to improve the persistence and academic success of students enrolled in community college developmental or gateway courses. Research has found that students in such courses often do not complete their courses and leave college without completing their programs. This intervention aims to instill a "growth mindset" (i.e., the belief that intelligence is something a person can develop through practice) because this mindset has been show to correlate with supportive academic behaviors (e.g., seeking help, studying) and to increase resilience and persistence. Building off of previous research, which has shown semester-level positive effects, this current project will evaluate the long-term impacts of this intervention on degree completion and transfer rates to 4-year colleges.

Project Activities: Over the course of this project, the researchers will evaluate the impact of a 30-minute online module that teaches students that intelligence is malleable and that intellectual abilities can increase through deliberate effort and practice. They will recruit students from two community college systems in Year 1 and 2 and will randomly assign them to receive either the growth mindset module or a module that teaches students about the structures of the brain. They will track students through the semester and over the course of the study to determine whether there are changes in students' perceptions about intellect and in their academic outcomes and rate of degree completion or transfer to 4-year colleges.

Products: This project will generate evidence of the efficacy of a growth mindset intervention for postsecondary students in developmental and gateway math courses. Researchers will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place across 17 community colleges in 2 states: California and Indiana.

Sample: Approximately 24,000 community college students enrolled in developmental or gateway courses at ethnically diverse campuses will participate in this study.

Intervention: Students with a "fixed mindset," i.e., those who view intelligence as an unchangeable trait, are more likely to interpret a setback, such as a bad grade, as indicating they are unable to succeed, making them more likely to reduce effort. However, students with a "growth mindset," i.e., those who view intelligence as a trait that can be improved through effortful learning and deliberate practice, are more likely to interpret a setback as indicating that they did not exert the right amount or type of effort, thus making them more likely to exert greater effort and to seek out assistance. The short, 30-minute mindset intervention being tested in this study attempts to instill a growth mindset by teaching students about neural plasticity and having them complete short writing exercises. In the intervention, students read an article about how a people's brain functions can improve when they confront new challenges and practice different ways of thinking. The article also emphasizes the importance of switching strategies and seeking out challenges in order to increase abilities and encourages students to seek out advice from other students and from instructors to find strategies that work. After reading the article, students complete several writing exercises designed to help students better understand and internalize the intervention's message. These exercises include writing a summary of the article and giving advice to a struggling friend based on the article.

Research Design and Methods: Instructors in developmental and gateway math courses will invite their students to participate in the experiment for course credit either as part of an in-class assignment in a campus computer lab or as a homework assignment on a school computer or personal computer. The participating students will be then randomly assigned to receive the mindset intervention article and exercises or a control article and related writing exercises. Students in both conditions will take a follow-up survey administered several weeks later online. Over the course of the study, the researchers will collect administrative data on the participants to track their persistence and success (e.g., degree completion, transfer to 4-year college). In addition to these student data, the researchers will also collect information to track fidelity of implementation and to conduct a cost analysis of the intervention.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition will read a brief article about the brain, which focuses on basic brain structures and their functions. They will also complete reflective writing exercises based on the article's content.

Key Measures: The primary academic achievement measures include course and degree completion and transfer data, which will be obtained from the colleges. The primary psychometric measures are pre-existing, validated measure that assess students' growth mindsets about intelligence, their attributions of effort versus ability, how they respond to setbacks, and whether they are academically engaged.

Data Analysis Plan: The researchers will use linear and logistic regression models to assess the effects of the intervention on both academic and psychological outcomes. The research team will also explore the potential moderating effects of prior academic success (i.e., if students who have histories of academic failure demonstrate stronger effects) and the mediational effects of engagement, students' attributions for academic success (via effort or ability), and students' responses to setbacks.