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Teaching strategies designed to change the undergraduate experience for college women learning chemistry (Khan 2005)

Citation

Khan, S. (2005). Teaching strategies designed to change the undergraduate experience for college women learning chemistry. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering 11, 365-387.

Highlights

    • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of three teaching innovations—a contract, confidence-building exercises, and encouragement to apply for science internships—on performance in an Organic Chemistry II course at an all-female college.
    • The author compared the final exam scores, final grades, and internship acceptance rates of students enrolled in the course that included these interventions to outcomes for students who had taken the course without these interventions in the three prior years. All courses were taught by the same professor and used the same syllabus.
    • The study identified no statistically significant relationships between the three teaching innovations and students’ outcomes.
    • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the teaching innovations; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Innovative Teaching for Women in STEM

Features of the Intervention

This study examined three changes an Organic Chemistry II professor made to her pedagogical practices. First, she implemented a contract in which she promised students would earn no worse than a C grade overall if they attended class regularly, submitted homework assignments on time, attended discussion sections and laboratories, and met with an external tutor to address poor midterm exam performance. The contract also offered students the opportunity to resubmit unsuccessful homework assignments and lab reports. Second, in each lecture, the professor collected anonymous written feedback regarding homework difficulty or other challenges and structured teaching practices to address these comments. For example, to shore up students’ self-esteem, the professor urged them to view their work in a more positive light and to proclaim their successes in lab. Finally, the professor encouraged students to participate in summer science internships at the university or in industry, curating a list of available opportunities and advocating for additional funding.

Features of the Study

This study compared the final exam grades, final course grades, and internship acceptance rates of the 76 female students who experienced an innovative Organic Chemistry II course at Mount Holyoke College to those of the approximately 225 students in the same professor’s three previous Organic Chemistry II courses, all of which relied on the same syllabus.

Findings

    • The study identified no statistically significant relationships between the three teaching innovations and students’ outcomes.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The author did not establish the comparability of the treatment or comparison groups nor control for factors—such as age and previous achievement in STEM courses—that were likely to influence the outcomes of interest. As a result, we cannot be certain that the innovative teaching practices alone contributed to the observed changes in outcomes.

The author also noted that she intentionally focused her study on a well-regarded professor at an institution known for its record of producing many female students who go on to earn doctorates in the physical sciences. Given the uniqueness of the circumstances, the study’s conclusions might not apply to more general populations.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the author did not demonstrate the equivalence of the treatment and comparison groups before implementing the intervention nor conduct any statistical analyses to confirm that observed differences in outcomes were meaningful and not due to chance. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the teaching innovations; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

January 2016