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IES Grant

Title: It's Worth It! Securing Persistence, Performance and Progress within Postsecondary Gateway Science Courses through Utility Value Interventions
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Eccles, Jacquelynne Awardee: University of California, Irvine
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2017-6/30/2021) Award Amount: $2,740,650
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A170160

Co-Principal Investigators: Dennin, Michael; Dicke, Anna-Lena; Safavian, Nayssan

Purpose: Postsecondary students in gateway physics and chemistry may struggle to succeed in their courses and stay in the majors for reasons beyond just the difficulty of the subject matter. Previous research with postsecondary biology students found that helping students see the utility of their studies increased their persistence, leading to better academic outcomes. The purpose of this study is to replicate and extend that work, focusing physics and chemistry students. In addition, this study will determine the degree to which this approach is beneficial for first-generation college going, underrepresented minorities, and female students.

Project Activities: Researchers will conduct a double-blind, randomized controlled trial study using students enrolled in a gateway physics course and a gateway chemistry course. Students in each cohort will participate across two-semesters and researchers will analyze students' course outcomes and subsequent enrollment in college and science courses. The researchers will also conduct a cost analysis to determine the investment necessary for the intervention.

Products: The researchers will produce evidence of the efficacy of the utility-value intervention for postsecondary students in gateway physics and chemistry course and will disseminate peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This research study will take place at a large university in California.

Sample: Researchers will recruit approximately 7,900 undergraduate students in gateway undergraduate physics and chemistry courses, of whom roughly around half may be female, half may be Hispanic or Southeast Asian, and over 40 percent may be first generation students.

Intervention: Utility-value interventions (UVIs) aim to improve student outcomes by changing students' subjective experiences of their learning. UVIs build off the finding that students are most attracted to and perform best in college courses at which they expect to succeed and to which they attach high value. In the UVI being evaluated in this study, students write short letters, in which they discuss how a concept they are learning about is relevant to their lives. In doing so, students discover the personal relevance of course material by making connections between course topics and their lives, and this, in turn, helps them appreciate the value of their course work, leading to a deeper level of engagement with the course work and, thus, improved performance. This particular UVI is short, easily implemented in existing classroom structures, and has demonstrated efficacy in other postsecondary science courses.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will use a double-blind randomized control trial, randomizing students into treatment and control conditions. They will use a block-randomization procedure to ensure balanced groups of under-represented minority students, first-generation students, and females in both treatment and control groups. The researchers will recruit five cohorts of students from a gateway physics course and a gateway chemistry course across three academic years. The targeted gateway science courses are taught in a two-quarter sequence, so each cohort will receive the intervention (or control) over two quarters within each cohort. The first cohort (Cohort 0) will be in a pilot study to ensure that the materials are appropriate for the new courses and institution. The remaining cohorts will be recruited during the Fall quarters (Cohort 1 and 3) and Winter quarters (Cohort 2 and 4). Within each quarter, students will receive two short writing assignments (approximately 250 to 500 words) for a total of four assignments over the two-quarter course. In the control condition, students will pick a topic that has been covered in lecture in the preceding 2-week period, formulate a question, and write about it. In the treatment condition, the students will pick a topic and formulate a question, just as in the control condition, but will write one of two writing assignments either an essay explaining how the topic is relevant to their own life or a letter to a family member or close friend explaining its relevance. The ordering of these two choices will be controlled in the first quarter, and students will be able to choose which they prefer (an essay or letter) in the second quarter. The researchers will collect baseline and post-test data at the beginning and end of each quarter.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition will choose a topic covered in a recent lecture and write questions and answers focusing on topic content they chose.

Key Measures: Key measures will track students' academic progress (i.e., course grades) and academic persistence (i.e., students' interest in science and enrollment in subsequent science courses). The researchers will also include variables to investigate potential differential effects for students' sociodemographic characteristics (i.e., sex, minority, or first-generation status) and level of academic preparation (i.e., high school GPA, SAT/ACT scores, enrollments in AP science courses) and science-related attitudes, including confidence in ability and perceived value.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use two-level hierarchical linear models with students nested within sections to conduct impact analyses. They will determine the effectiveness of the interventions for subgroups through the use of interaction terms.