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Work in Progress: Challenges and Mitigation Strategies in STEM Courses: Students' Perspectives

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Efforts to Understand and Support Students' Socioemotional Factors

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Saira Anwar University of Florida Orcid 16x16

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Saira Anwar is an Instructional Assistant Professor at the Department of Engineering Education, University of Florida. Dr. Anwar has over 12 years of teaching experience, primarily in computer science and software engineering. Her research focuses on studying the unique contribution of different instructional strategies to students' learning and motivation. Also, she is interested in designing interventions that help in understanding conceptually hard concepts in STEM courses. Dr. Anwar is the recipient of the 2020 outstanding researcher award by the School of Engineering Education, Purdue University. Also, she was the recipient of the "President of Pakistan Merit and Talent Scholarship" for her undergraduate studies.

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Ahmed Ashraf Butt Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Ahmed Ashraf Butt is a doctoral student at the School of Engineering Education, Purdue University. He is currently working as a research assistant on the CourseMIRROR project funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). He is interested in designing educational tools and exploring their impact on enhancing students' learning experiences. Before Purdue University, Ahmed has worked as a lecturer for two years at the University of Lahore, Pakistan. Additionally, he has been associated with the software industry in various capacities, from developer to consultant.

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Muhsin Menekse Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Muhsin Menekse is an Assistant Professor at Purdue University with a joint appointment in the School of Engineering Education and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Menekse's primary research focus is on exploring K-16 students' engagement and learning of engineering and science concepts by creating innovative instructional resources and conducting interdisciplinary quasi-experimental research studies in and out of classroom environments. Dr. Menekse is the recipient of the 2014 William Elgin Wickenden Award by the American Society for Engineering Education. Dr. Menekse also received three Seed-for-Success Awards (in 2017, 2018, and 2019) from Purdue University's Excellence in Research Awards programs in recognition of obtaining three external grants of $1 million or more during each year. His research has been generously funded by grants from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Purdue Research Foundation (PRF), and National Science Foundation (NSF).

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Prior studies show that most college students experience several challenges in STEM courses (e.g., [1]). Most of these challenges are due to contextual factors (e.g., study settings) impacting students' learning experiences. However, in existing studies, the primary focus is often placed on students' experiences and attitudes based on instruction and instructional strategies (e.g., [2]), with less emphasis on students' learning needs and expectations of the courses and academic challenges. Considering the role of other factors in students' learning experiences, we focused on understanding students' experiences in STEM courses in an exploratory manner. In this qualitative study, we specifically explored what challenges students experience while studying for their classes? And what actions do they take to mitigate those challenges? We collected data from two institutes located in the Midwest, USA. Thirty students at various levels of their degree programs (e.g., freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior, or graduate students) participated in the study. We collected data using an open-ended questionnaire, asking students to reflect on challenges and mitigation strategies. After students responded to the questionnaire questions, we divided them into seven focus groups, comprising five groups of four students and two groups of five students. We analyzed students' questionnaire data using thematic analysis and triangulated the results using focus group discussions. Students described that two factors could describe their positive or negative course experiences. These include 1) personal factors, such as study environment, interest in course, procrastination, or courses out of major contribute towards students' challenges, and 2) course-related factors, such as course organization issues, lack of practice opportunities, professor's pace while describing concepts, lack of resources, an overwhelming amount of material, and little explanation of conceptually challenging concepts in STEM courses. Also, the language barrier for international students was one of the challenges that limit their understanding of complex concepts. Furthermore, students described their strategies to focus on and organize their thoughts and mitigate their challenges. The common strategies included using online resources such as YouTube videos, seeking help from instructors and peers, organizing their understanding with notes, and comprehending the concepts' real-life application. This study helps in understanding students' learning needs who are at different stages in their degree programs. These results could help instructors design a better student-centered curriculum, course activities, and learning environment aligned with course learning objectives.

Anwar, S., & Butt, A. A., & Menekse, M. (2021, July), Work in Progress: Challenges and Mitigation Strategies in STEM Courses: Students' Perspectives Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--38127

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