P284: Increased student engagement, motivation and achievement in a general education science course for first-year undergraduate non-science majors
Students in a general education course for non-science majors demonstrate higher motivation, engagement, and achievement when they participate in a real science investigation as a primary focus of the course. In this course students learn about chemistry by collecting valid, publishable scientific research data in an investigation of the contamination of family-owned water wells by crude oil from abandoned oil wells, a problem of special concern in our region. Student assessment results obtained in four sections of the course taught over a three year period are highly consistent and contrast significantly with assessment results obtained in prior years of the course when it did not have the research component. These results show that students in this version of the course were more engaged and motivated and found the work more compelling. Results also showed a surprisingly high level of mastery of the course material and the research concepts despite the relatively low level of prior preparation of students. Students reported that one of the most important factors accounting for their increased student motivation and engagement is their perception that their research potentially benefits others. This provides an example of how scientific research can be integrated with community service learning as a way to increase the effectiveness of learning for first-year students who are not majoring in chemistry and who have little prior disciplinary experience or aptitude.