coursework or course work

coursework or course work

The Impact of Coursework on Student Learning

1. Introduction to Coursework

Research questions include: Is completion of coursework associated with student academic achievement? Is completion of coursework predictive of achievement? Can personal, individual, school, or family characteristics moderate coursework effects? Results include that more specialized STEM coursework is associated with higher science, and weaker mathematics, performance. Student ability is identified as a predictor of achievement, but coursework remains in the model, suggesting that other personal and family characteristics are playing a role in academic achievement. Evidence of student tracking was identified, demonstrating significant student diversity. Other correlates to achievement, offered to policymakers, conclude the paper. Findings contend that coursework may be only one avenue for improving outcomes. Additional student preparation, family, and/or school-level intervention may be necessary and further inquiry is warranted.

This article examines the impact of participation in STEM coursework over and above individual ability and personal characteristics on student achievement; specifically deconstructing those students completing more coursework, including upper-level coursework. Data have been gathered from one Florida high school over the 2006–2007 academic year.

STEM education is receiving attention due to concerns about a decline in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics interest, aptitude, and achievement. There are attempts to reinvent STEM education in the United States, and it is important to expose the general population, particularly underrepresented and traditionally underserved minority students, to STEM coursework. Coursework has the potential to provide the foundation for an individual to succeed in a more specialized STEM curriculum, such as in a collegiate or professional environment.

2. Benefits of Coursework in Education

Strengthening the practical focus of coursework in both developed countries and those in the process of change, where knowledge and practice mutually shape the minds and attitudes of students in a harmonized manner, responds to the requirements for a general modus operandi for our current era, in which attaining adequate levels of quality in teaching and scholarship relies on creating spaces for interaction between education, practical use, and the progression of knowledge. From a psychological and pedagogical point of view, this approach encourages creativity and allows students space in which to gain experience in control and attention, crucial elements of legal practice. Albeit dynamic and participatory relative to a purely theoretical class, a dialogic class is not the only means to augment the practical training of students at the undergraduate level, only the most significant and formalized.

While the professions of the academic and the practitioner, divided by a theoretical and practical schism, seem irreparably separated, the scholar, after all, begins by learning, becomes a master by uniting theory and practice, and rises to genius when he advances his individual skill to the skill of synthesis. We need to re-establish the unity between education, scholarship, and use, between instruction and teaching, between the acquisition of knowledge and the cultivation of practical skills, between the legal mind and the law. In turn, we need to configure an institutional base and a methodology in which formation, scholarship, and use converge and are nourished by the same origin, in which students progress from being mere repositories of knowledge acquired in the classroom to direct actors in their instruction and teachers in a collective, educational synergy that draws on our respective skills as active and experienced lawyers and scholars.

3. Challenges and Strategies in Implementing Effective Coursework

PreparedStatement to use coursework created by others, or yet to implement their own well-thought-out assignment ideas, can create feelings of apprehension and stress leading to the rejection of coursework as a teaching tool. What are instructors to do if they have not had experience with effective coursework? The question is in fact our call to action – to engage in reflective practice toward the design of effective assignments that incentivize student effort and engagement. There is no reason not to work toward the integration of information literacy and other appropriate learning goals. However, if this is a new teaching angle, ramping up to assignments should be viewed as an incremental process. The pace of ramping up is contingent upon the path you sign up to walk and depends upon your desires and those of your students. With mutual trust and a willingness to walk more uncharted territory, one can begin to face some old habits and to collaboratively attempt something new. And, as with much reliable work, these incremental changes towards increasingly effective coursework need to be purposefully and carefully carried out by both the instructor and by the students themselves. Both partners in learning must guide one another and probe one another to deepen the motivations for the learning tasks at hand.

Effective coursework often requires more preparation and effort from the faculty than traditional testing methods. Faculty often find it easier to design a few long exams over the semester than it is to continuously assess student learning by designing assignments around specific learning goals. Are the efforts worth it? We believe that the answer is a resounding “yes”. There is significant evidence to support the use of all types of coursework tasks, including quick lecture-based feedback and more complex assignments promoting student engagement. However, the impact is maximized through formative and low-stakes assignments, deeper learning tasks that promote critical thinking, as well as reflection and interaction. Underpinning actions by beliefs of their worth is crucial in designing well-thought-out coursework. Instructors often also need to change their assessments in order to get the full benefit of coherent work that builds toward well-defined learning outcomes. Otherwise, students may be confused about the focus of the course and what is important in their learning. Therefore, more often than not, the amount and types of coursework also affect student performance.

4. Assessment and Evaluation of Coursework

It is often criticized for a lack of focus on longer-term learning. The view of the working party on coursework of the Joint Council for the National Development of Vocational Qualifications was that coursework is seen primarily as a means of assessment and that its educational role is less developed – less, for example, than the role of homework. Among reasons for this situation, the working party cited the fact that additional assessment techniques are not generally available to assess extended learning and that vocational trainers and assessors may lack the skills. Experience in the field of higher education in the UK leads to similar findings, although assessment is also carried out of the process of coursework via staff/student ratios, study time, and learning development activities.

Assessment of student learning is a task that is usually conducted at the end of a course of coursework or at the end of associated examination or assessment periods. Such assessment is now often part of an increasingly ‘internalized’ system of gaining educational qualifications, as in the ‘modular’ structure of the National Vocational Qualifications in the UK and the comprehensive set of final examinations for the more traditional degree courses. The system used for assessing coursework and its importance for the final grading can have a major influence in forwarding the learning that it is meant to encourage. This chapter discusses various forms of coursework that are used in higher education and argues for the greater use of ‘open’ or ‘disciplined’ assessment in order to promote learning and discourage ‘plagiarism’.

5. Conclusion and Future Directions

Future work could investigate how these findings would extend to other disciplines. For example, does a focused CRE have similar levels of effect in fields that are less concerned about theory versus practice? Does participation in these experiences have a different relationship with student coursework in the social sciences and humanities? In addition, how do student responses to whether or not they integrated their CRE impact student outcomes, by race? Finally, I would like to take a more in-depth look at the interviews in order to provide more context for how individual students reported the relationships between CRE participation and student outcomes.

This study aimed to investigate the relationship between coursework research experiences (CREs) and student skill-building in the sciences and broaden Kuh’s (2008) coursework hypothesis by considering the cumulative versus non-cumulative nature of CRE participation and considering how the relationship between CRE participation and student skill-building varied by race. Furthermore, I wanted to investigate a third question of whether other-high impact practices (OHIPs) and CREs were working in tandem to produce student gains. To investigate these questions, I leveraged three survey datasets developed as part of the Science Education Initiatives (SEI) and the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI). The current study has both theoretical and practical implications. In terms of theoretical contributions, it is the first study to consider the potential non-cumulative effects of undergraduates CREs in the sciences and how the relationship varies by student race. Also, it is the first study to investigate the relationship with student coursework. In practical terms, the findings suggest and promote the value of integrating research-based experiences into the science curriculum, particularly for underrepresented minority students.

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