The effect of an enriched learning community on success and retention in chemistry courses

Lois Jane Willoughby, Florida International University


Since the mid-1990s, the United States has experienced a shortage of scientists and engineers, declining numbers of students choosing these fields as majors, and low student success and retention rates in these disciplines. Learning theorists, educational researchers, and practitioners believe that learning environments can be created so that an improvement in the numbers of students who complete courses successfully could be attained (Astin, 1993; Magolda & Terenzini, n.d.; O'Banion, 1997). Learning communities do this by providing high expectations, academic and social support, feedback during the entire educational process, and involvement with faculty, other students, and the institution (Ketcheson & Levine, 1999). ^ A program evaluation of an existing learning community of science, mathematics, and engineering majors was conducted to determine the extent to which the program met its goals and was effective from faculty and student perspectives. The program provided laptop computers, peer tutors, supplemental instruction with and without computer software, small class size, opportunities for contact with specialists in selected career fields, a resource library, and Peer-Led Team Learning. During the two years the project has existed, success, retention, and next-course continuation rates were higher than in traditional courses. Faculty and student interviews indicated there were many affective accomplishments as well. ^ Success and retention rates for one learning community class ( n = 27) and one traditional class (n = 61) in chemistry were collected and compared using Pearson chi square procedures ( p = .05). No statistically significant difference was found between the two groups. Data from an open-ended student survey about how specific elements of their course experiences contributed to success and persistence were analyzed by coding the responses and comparing the learning community and traditional classes. Substantial differences were found in their perceptions about the lecture, the lab, other supports used for the course, contact with other students, helping them reach their potential, and their recommendation about the course to others. Because of the limitation of small sample size, these differences are reported in descriptive terms. ^

Subject Area

Education, Community College|Education, Sciences|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Willoughby, Lois Jane, "The effect of an enriched learning community on success and retention in chemistry courses" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3165148.