Factors Contributing to Attitudinal Gains in Introductory Astronomy Courses
Most students do not enroll in introductory astronomy as part of their major; For many, it is the last science course they will ever take. Thus, it has great potential to shape students’ attitudes toward STEM fields for the rest of their life. We therefore argue that it is less important, when assessing the effectiveness of introductory astronomy courses, to explore traditional curricular learning gains than to explore the effects that various course components have on this attitude. We describe the results of our analysis of end-of-semester surveys returned by a total of 749 students in 2014-2015, at 10 institutions that employed at least part of the introductory astronomy lecture and lab curriculum we first implemented at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009. Surveys were designed to measure each student’s attitude, and to probe the correlation of attitude with their utilization of, and satisfaction with, various course components, along with other measures of their academic background and their self-assessed performance in the course. We find that students’ attitudes are significantly positively correlated with the grade they expect to receive, and with their rating of the course’s overall effectiveness. To a lesser degree, we find that students’ attitudes are positively correlated with their mathematical background, with whether they intend to major or pursue a career in STEM, and with their rating of the effectiveness of the instructor. We find that students’ attitudes are negatively correlated with the amount of work they perceived the course to involve, and, surprisingly, with the size and reputation of their home institution. We also find that, for the subsets of students who were exposed to them, students’ attitudes are positively correlated with their perception of the helpfulness of the lecture component of the course, and of telescope-based labs that utilized UNC-CH’s Skynet Robotic Telescope Network.