Promoting equitable learning through collaborative work in large-enrollment classrooms
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Post-secondary education goals include cultivating independent learners who become lifelong contributors to society and a scientifically literate citizenry. Most universities offer required Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses at the undergraduate level and often delivers in large-enrollment (e.g. over 100) formats. In a large-classrooms, diverse learning needs and student preferences need to be accommodated, but solutions for large enrollment courses have proven elusive. Group work has been widely used to support students learning in large enrollment classrooms. However, collaborative work may inadvertently reify misconceptions among students with limited background knowledge and experience while encouraging rote learning. In particular, chronic underachievers have reported limited understanding of (or skill in) collaborative learning. This dissertation reported design-based research to promote equitable learning through collaborative work in large-enrollment classrooms. This research was conducted in large-enrollment introductory biology courses for non-science majors. Academically different learners registered the courses and collaborative learning was used to achieve course objectives; promoting general scientific literacy skills. Considering goals and challenges of learning in higher education, the studies examines optimal learning environments for underperforming students. The first manuscript (Chapter 2) analyzes and synthesizes research, theory and practice related to underperforming students in postsecondary settings, and identifying research needed to support both underperforming college students and their instructors. In Chapter 3, a mixed method study examines how individual and group inquiry-based activities influence achievement among academically diverse students. The results indicated that some group-based activities positively influenced the achievement of higher achievers but no group activities improved lower achievers’ individual achievement. The study detailed in Chapter 4 examines group methods designed to benefit the academic performance of all participants equitable across achievement levels. The study mainly examines circumstances and methods where group work benefits performance across achievement levels. The mixed method study indicated that lower performing groups were more likely to benefit when they included higher achievers and/or received additional instructor guidance and positive interdependence and promotive interaction were not consistently associated with improved learning. The dissertation concludes with implications of the program of inquiry and future research directions in Chapter 5.