Given that we lost several students within the first day, they clearly didn’t get the BIG PICTURE about the course. The concerns I heard were
- apprehension about experience with chemistry and science – general lack of preparation
- unwilling to invest time into something the student views as having little “pay-off”, primarly not directed at their major (although several chemistry majors did express this sentiment as well)
I suspect that both of these concerns come from an underlying fear of failure. The students aren’t willing to take the risk because of the fear of failure. So, what can we do? I think there are two different directions from which we can approach this (1) providing an understanding of the rewards of success – obviously many students don’t think learning for learnings sake is enough to sustain persistance AND (2) providing an understanding of the support available, which is really redefining failure.
Some thoughts I have about how to achieve this next year.
- Start with a discussion about critical thinking in science to establish a common understanding of why it would be important for anyone to be a versatile, critical thinker. This is especially important in the context that these students will have more jobs and careers than any previous generation. Flexibility and problem solving skills will be a key component to success in career and life. (Einstein is a great case-study for this because he wasn’t traditionally trained – some argue this is why he was able to think outside of the accepted paradigm)
- Establish the value of a liberal arts education (and what that means).
- Get the students to engage with the syllabus/grade distribution in order to understand that if they persist, failure is VERY unlikely.
My running concern with any of this is time. We have a full agenda in the course content and it is difficult to devote any time to these kinds of conversations and still have time enough to provide the practice and engagement with concepts necessary for students to achieve the learning outcomes of the course.