New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Educational Research and Methods
This research paper examines the relationship between engineering students’ sense of belonging and performance in Introductory Calculus for Engineers and investigates how a collaborative learning intervention may boost both. Many universities offer academic interventions to support at-risk engineering freshmen. At our university, Introductory Calculus for Engineers targets students identified as under-prepared or struggling in the freshman engineering math course. Although the intervention helps some students, there are many for whom it is unsuccessful, likely because social, psychological, and situational factors contribute to underperformance. Specifically, feelings of belonging and learning environment likely contribute to variability in achievement. Social belonging, a feeling of acceptance and membership in a group, increases self-efficacy for learning and social integration. Belonging can be domain-specific, such as math belonging, which is associated with increased confidence and utility beliefs about math. Information about belonging can be provided by the learning environment: one which increases belonging by encouraging collaboration and reducing competition may increase achievement. Collaborative learning is associated with widespread improvements in classroom achievement, positive attitudes, and greater belonging. In two studies, we examined perceived belonging and course performance for freshman at a large urban public university. Participants were enrolled in Introductory Calculus for Engineers, which followed the NCAT emporium model and did not utilize collaborative learning. In Study 1 (n = 113), students were surveyed at the end of the semester about belonging uncertainty. We controlled for prior mathematics ability by covarying ACT-Math scores. The greater students’ belonging uncertainty, the more poorly they performed in the course, β = -.04, t(110) = -2.71, p = .008. Belonging uncertainty also explained a significant proportion of variance in course performance, R2 = .06, F(1, 110) = 7.35, p = .008. In Study 2 (n = 18), Introductory Calculus for Engineers was redesigned to target belonging with a collaborative learning intervention. Students in this course had failed the prior semester’s math course or had recently transferred into the major without sufficient background to start in calculus. Students completed survey measures at both the beginning and end of the semester. Coursework consisted of structured collaborative problem solving with feedback from professor and TAs. Students individually completed weekly quizzes and biweekly exams. At the semester’s end, students reported greater math belonging, t(17) = -2.83, p = .011, higher ratings of interactions with their classmates, t(17) = -4.99, p < .001, and better attitudes towards collaborative learning, t(17) = -.270, p = .015. Furthermore, at the end of the semester, less prospective belonging uncertainty, r = -.50, p = .035, and greater math belonging were associated with higher course grades, r = .57, p = .014. This preliminary study has examined engineering students’ reports of belonging and experiences of collaborative learning in relation to their first-year math course performance. The findings reveal the importance of a sense of belonging to academic achievement and suggest an instructional approach to enhance belonging. Ongoing experimental research will target both belonging and engineering mathematics performance by integrating collaborative learning into courses that serve at-risk students.
Weaver, J. P., & Decaro, M. S., & Hieb, J. L., & Ralston, P. A. (2016, June), Social Belonging and First-Year Engineering Mathematics: A Collaborative Learning Intervention Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25818
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