Student Motivation from and Resistance to Active Learning Rooted in Essential Science Practices

Abstract

Several studies have found active learning to enhance students’ motivation and attitudes. Yet, faculty indicate that students resist active learning and censure them on evaluations after incorporating active learning into their instruction, resulting in an apparent paradox. We argue that the disparity in findings across previous studies is the result of variation in the active learning instruction that was implemented. The purpose of this study was to illuminate sources of motivation from and resistance to active learning that resulted from a novel, exemplary active-learning approach rooted in essential science practices and supported by science education literature. This approach was enacted over the course of 4 weeks in eight sections of an introductory undergraduate biology laboratory course. A plant concept inventory, administered to students as a pre-, post-, and delayed-posttest indicated significant proximal and distal learning gains. Qualitative analysis of open-response questionnaires and interviews elucidated sources of motivation and resistance that resulted from this active-learning approach. Several participants indicated this approach enhanced interest, creativity, and motivation to prepare, and resulted in a challenging learning environment that facilitated the sharing of diverse perspectives and the development of a community of learners. Sources of resistance to active learning included participants’ unfamiliarity with essential science practices, having to struggle with uncertainty in the absence of authoritative information, and the extra effort required to actively construct knowledge as compared to learning via traditional, teacher-centered instruction. Implications for implementation, including tips for reducing student resistance to active learning, are discussed.

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Owens, D.C., Sadler, T.D., Barlow, A.T. et al. Student Motivation from and Resistance to Active Learning Rooted in Essential Science Practices. Res Sci Educ 50, 253–277 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-017-9688-1

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Keywords

  • Active learning
  • Motivation
  • Attitudes
  • Resistance
  • Inquiry
  • Essential science practices