Experiential learning and peer mentors in introductory environmental science classes promote student academic success and engagement with course content at a public university in New York City
Monday, August 2, 2021
Link To Share This Presentation: https://cdmcd.co/6ZqJLn
Annie Stoeth, Earth and Environmental Sciences, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York, NY, Annie Stoeth, Esther Schonfeld, Mikaela Charalambous and Jeffrey A. Bird, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Queens College, CUNY, Flushing, NY, Lisa L. Manne, Biology Dept., City University of New York, Staten Island, NY, Jennifer Valad and Eva Fernandez, Queens College, Jennifer Valad and Eva Fernandez, HSI-STEM Bridges Across Eastern Queens
Earth and Environmental Sciences, The Graduate Center, City University of New York New York, NY, USA
Background/Question/Methods Being a global citizen in 2021 requires an understanding of environmental issues. Everyone should understand Earth’s ecosystem and the challenges it faces, and participate in related policy conversations. Despite this, broad science literacy is lacking in the United States, and “science” itself has become culturally divisive. Introductory undergraduate science courses have the potential to reframe science and highlight its relevance to students’ lives using the principles of successful adult education, including foregrounding learners’ experiences and values, providing support, and emphasizing the relevance of the course material to their decision making as consumers, voters, and community members. We addressed the alternative hypothesis that experiential learning and peer mentoring will significantly increase student engagement with course material and improve academic performance in an introductory environmental science course at Queens College (CUNY). We used a paired experimental design with random treatment assignment (2018-2020, n=9 class sections (blocks)). Experimental sections received a mixed treatment intervention (peer mentors in lab class and experiential learning activity). Control sections had no peer mentors and no additional activities. We compared student performance (grades/exams) across sections quantitatively, using mixed models. We also evaluated qualitative evidence of increased engagement (comments/survey responses).
Results/Conclusions The initial data are compelling; in every semester, students in treatment sections performed better than those in control sections, although the small sample size and covariation between instructor quality and the instructors assigned to the experimental treatment hinders our ability to show statistical significance via mixed models. However, one Treatment/Control pair in spring 2020 did show significant academic improvement (p=0.02). In another Treatment/Control pair, treatment students reported significantly more connection to the course content (p=0.02) and increased understanding of the College/Department/Major (p=0.006), compared to the control. Qualitative evidence for the intervention’s success is overwhelming; the experiential learning activity is consistently among students’ favorites (when offered), and students consistently cite the peer mentors as reasons for their good grades. In the context of 21st century global systems and networks, basic scientific literacy and communication skills are essential. Our results suggest that experiential learning and peer mentors promote these skills in undergraduate classrooms. Additional research is warranted, especially if these skills and interventions have the capacity to encourage informed participation in politics, economics, and society. Current and future research by our team explores the potential of these interventions to recruit STEM majors, to change longer-term behavior, and to increase DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice) in STEM.