Increasing Student Success in Large Survey Science Courses via Supplemental Instruction in Learning Centers

Type Conference Paper
Names Eric Jon Hooper, S. Nossal, L. Watson, P. Timbie
Proceedings Title Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society
Conference Name American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #216, #416.09
Volume 41
Pages 827
Date May 1, 2010
Library Catalog NASA ADS
Abstract Large introductory astronomy and physics survey courses can be very challenging and stressful. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Physics Learning Center (PLC) reaches about 10 percent of the students in four introductory physics courses, algebra and calculus based versions of both classical mechanics and electromagnetism. Participants include those potentially most vulnerable to experiencing isolation and hence to having difficulty finding study partners as well as students struggling with the course. They receive specially written tutorials, conceptual summaries, and practice problems; exam reviews; and most importantly, membership in small groups of 3 - 8 students which meet twice per week in a hybrid of traditional teaching and tutoring. Almost all students who regularly participate in the PLC earn at least a "C,” with many earning higher grades. The PLC works closely with other campus programs which seek to increase the participation and enhance the success of underrepresented minorities, first generation college students, and students from lower-income circumstances; and it is well received by students, departmental faculty, and University administration. The PLC staff includes physics education specialists and research scientists with a passion for education. However, the bulk of the teaching is conducted by undergraduates who are majoring in physics, astronomy, mathematics, engineering, and secondary science teaching (many have multiple majors). The staff train these enthusiastic students, denoted Peer Mentor Tutors (PMTs) in general pedagogy and mentoring strategies, as well as the specifics of teaching the physics covered in the course. The PMTs are among the best undergraduates at the university. While currently there is no UW-Madison learning center for astronomy courses, establishing one is a possible future direction. The introductory astronomy courses cater to non-science majors and consequently are less quantitative. However, the basic structure of small groups focusing on fundamental understanding taught mostly by dedicated undergraduates should transfer well.
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