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How Do 2-Year College Students Beginning in STEM View Themselves as Learners?


by Xueli Wang, Ning Sun, Brit Wagner & Brett Ranon Nachman - 2019

Background: Two-year colleges are uniquely positioned to diversify science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Yet limited existing scholarship sheds light on how 2-year college students view themselves as learners as they experience STEM courses and programs. An in-depth and nuanced understanding of 2-year college STEM students’ self-perceptions as learners presents a powerful vehicle for identifying venues of interventions aimed at cultivating and supporting the STEM talent pool toward success through and beyond the 2-year college sector.

Purpose of the Study: We address the following research question: How do 2-year college students participating in STEM classes and programs perceive themselves as learners? Our inquiry is aimed at revealing the fundamental structure underlying these students’ experiences as their self-perceptions as STEM learners are formed and transformed.

Study Setting and Participants: We collected the data for this study as part of an ongoing longitudinal mixed methods study of students beginning in STEM programs or courses in Fall 2014 at three large 2-year institutions in a Midwestern state. The sample selection of the present qualitative study drew on maximum variation sampling, yielding a final sample size of 31.

Research Design: We adopted descriptive phenomenology to answer our research question. In-person interviews were conducted with each participant. Data were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using the procedures aligned with the descriptive phenomenological method proposed by Colaizzi (1978). In addition, we adopted analytical techniques from grounded theory in order to effectively organize our process of documenting, describing, and making sense of the data.

Findings: Our findings show that self-perceptions as 2-year college STEM learners are deeply intertwined with self-perceptions as mathematics learners, constantly evaluated and reevaluated in relation to others, driven by an internal process of recognizing the rewards and negotiating the challenges of studying STEM, and shaped by an external process of validation. While these themes stand on their own as prominent defining elements of the phenomenon of our interest, they are also inherently interwoven pieces of a cohesive, complex whole.

Conclusions: Our study captures how students’ self-perceptions as learners are formed and transformed, and illustrates how their prior and current learning experiences, self-perceptions as mathematics learners, background characteristics, and relationships with others interweave to shape and reshape how they view themselves as learners. Future work should further determine what specific measures and venues 2-year colleges can capitalize upon to develop confident and collaborative learners who embrace the rewards and challenges of studying STEM.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 4, 2019, p. 1-44
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22607, Date Accessed: 11/17/2019 5:35:40 PM

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About the Author
  • Xueli Wang
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    XUELI WANG is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests center on college student pathways and success, with a focus on community colleges and STEM education. Her recent work includes “Toward a Holistic Theoretical Model of Momentum for Community College Student Success,” published in Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, and a coauthored piece, “Does Active Learning Contribute to Transfer Intent Among 2-Year College Students Beginning in STEM?” published in The Journal of Higher Education.
  • Ning Sun
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    NING SUN is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests center on postsecondary teaching and learning, particularly at the 2-year college level, and its relation to student participation and success in STEM fields. Her recent coauthored work includes “Does Active Learning Contribute to Transfer Intent Among 2-Year College Students Beginning in STEM?” published in The Journal of Higher Education, and “Turning Remedial Math Classes Into ‘Homeroom’: Contextualization in Community College Remedial Math Offerings and its Influence on Student Learning and Motivation,” published in The Review of Higher Education.
  • Brit Wagner
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    BRIT WAGNER is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include the arrival and transition experiences of international students pursuing 4-year degrees in American universities and the experiences of 2-year college students on the transfer pathway. Her recent work includes a coauthored piece, “Does Active Learning Contribute to Transfer Intent Among 2-Year College Students Beginning in STEM?” published in The Journal of Higher Education.
  • Brett Nachman
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    BRETT RANON NACHMAN is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research is primarily concentrated on capturing the experiences and professional trajectories of community college students, as well as understanding perceptions, depictions and experiences of college students on the autism spectrum. His recent work includes serving as a coauthor on “A Nuanced Look at Women in STEM Fields at Two-Year Colleges: Factors that Shape Female Students’ Transfer Intent,” published in Frontiers in Psychology.
 
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