Engaging Learners Effectively in Science, Technology and Engineering - Summary Report
20 page summary report from the project Engaging Learners Effectively in Science, Technology and Engineering: The pathway from secondary to university education
Considerable evidence exists of a world-wide trend of declining student numbers in school and university sciences. Much of the research evidence relating to student engagement in the sciences has focused on school students, with very little focusing on university students. Even less focuses on the transition and engagement of students from school to university science. This research seeks to understand how university students become or remain engaged in science during their transition from school to university. The aims of the project were to:
- improve student engagement in the study of science at university
- improve the transition from the school learning environment to that of university
- identify and promulgate pedagogical ‘best practice’ for science education in the first year at university.
Data were collected using a mixed-methods design that included a questionnaire and focus groups. Participants consisted of 421 secondary students, 630 first-year university science students, 33 school science teachers, and 69 university academic staff teaching in science-based programmes.
Student engagement and transition were most strongly influenced by lecturers’ style, personality, enthusiasm, and ability to place scientific knowledge into contexts that were relevant to the student, or which the students could construct for themselves.
Lecturers’ and teachers’ perceptions of their teaching quality were significantly greater than
those of their students and, conversely, students’ perception of their engagement were significantly greater than those of their teachers/lecturers.
The findings provide clear evidence that more widespread use of best practice pedagogies and provision of relevant contexts would promote student engagement in the sciences at both secondary and tertiary education levels. Some key principles emerge from the study:
- Teachers and lecturers influence student engagement
- It is not what is taught, but how it is taught
- Science students want to be scientific
- Student engagement is not lost in transition
- Transition from school science to university science is a process
- There are different perceptions between students and lecturers/teachers.
Recommended responses to these findings are, first, to:
- assist lecturers and teachers to develop skills in the ‘teacher efficacy’ identified in this project
- ensure assessment practices at school and university reward critical thinking rather than reinforce low order learning
- ensure all content is delivered in a context that is immediately relevant to the learner.
Second, it is recommended that universities consider how to use most effectively the learning outcomes achieved by NCEA students in first year university study, by:
- building on the diversity of knowledge that results from the standards-based NCEA high school education
- guaranteeing liaison between universities and schools to ensure school leavers have the content knowledge needed to start their degrees.
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