Weeding Out Weed-outs

The ultimate goal of my final project is to bring attention to the consequences weed-out-style courses have on student performance (and student retention) in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Weed-out courses are normally very large (in Biology, mine had around 750 students) and are often a student’s first experience with an undergraduate-level course. It is common for many students to fail and this poor performance is almost always attributed to the student, when outdated course formats built to serve “traditional” students should likely bear more of the weight.

Currently I am planning to write a paper that reviews the known consequences of weed-out courses, provides tested examples of more inclusive/successful STEM course formats, and serves as a call to action for more STEM departments to make the change.

Originally I wanted to work with the Biology Department at CCNY to apply some of the ideas published by scientists working in early STEM education, but have decided that it may be of greater use to try to spend my energy casting a wider net. I hope this paper helps influence academic administrators to start making changes to better serve students, even if they are small.

2 thoughts on “Weeding Out Weed-outs”

  1. Your project SOUNDS AMAZING!

    I’d be interested in hearing the perspective of those students who ‘did not make it’ / ‘did not pass’ / got discouraged from continuing their education in STEM. Will you be including their voices too?

    I’m excited to see how you shape this project in the course of the semester!

  2. Thanks so much, Katherine– this is such an important topic, and I’m excited to watch you develop it.

    I’d love to see a literature review around this topic (you may have one already?), intended not only to help you shape the questions you’re asking, but also to find models for the research study and help hone the language you’re using in your inquiry. This piece talks about “persistence” in STEM; other studies have looked at STEM courses at CUNY as barriers to transfer. I’m curious where the “weed-out” dynamic fits within these slightly broader frames for looking at the same dynamic: some folks thrive in STEM courses, and some are kept from doing so by a range of factors.

    Our President, who has a particular interest in this topic, referred me in a conversation we had in the fall to these folks at UCLA: https://ceils.ucla.edu/team/core-staff/#toggle-id-2. There may be some useful research traceable through those pages.

    We’ll have to see, but I might urge you to be a bit more ambitious with your vision for you paper. More than tested examples and call to action, you may decide to work towards a specific set of recommendations that programs can put in place to realize the curricular and infrastructural changes needed to counteract this dynamic.

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