Date of Award

Fall 12-2016

Degree Type

Honors Thesis

Department

Molecular Biology

First Advisor

Rachel Watson

Abstract

Research suggests that the culture in gateway undergraduate STEM classes does not promote an environment in which students feel welcome to ask questions and actively participate in the learning process. It has been observed that rhetoric used in these classrooms negatively affects underrepresented students in these fields. Gender and racial biases further play a negative role in whether or not students feel welcome in their STEM department (Malcom, 2016). Overall, the pervasive culture of undergraduate STEM education appears to ineffectively gauge student understanding due to stereotypes and unproductive rhetoric that affects student retention and ultimate success in the field. Through the use of WyoCast classroom observations we were able to assess the ways in which exclusion is promoted through the use of ineffective rhetoric and passive teaching strategies. Additionally, the University of Wyoming’s STEP tutors were voluntarily asked to participate in a survey. The survey sought to evaluate the ways in which tutors, people who learn and teach, use their own personal experiences to implement strategies that encourage active learning, inclusion and student success. The results of this research indicate that classrooms that integrated higher-order thinking questions, longer wait-time and more interactive activities showed more student participation overall. Underrepresented minorities and females who already feel the pressures of societal biases are more likely to succeed in such environments that encourage active learning and critical thinking. With the growing need for STEM majors in the job market today, it is of inherent interest to provide the best possible learning environment for students as to ensure the highest retention and enjoyment in such programs.

Malcom, S., Feder, M., et al. 2016. Barriers and Opportunities for
2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees: Systemic Change to Support Students’ Diverse Pathways. Washington, D.C: National Academic Press.

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