“What will i experience in my college STEM courses?” An investigation of student predictions about instructional practices in introductory courses

Clara L. Meaders, Emma S. Toth, A. Kelly Lane, J. Kenny Shuman, Brian A. Couch, Marilyne Stains, Mackenzie R. Stetzer, Erin Vinson, Michelle K. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The instructional practices used in introductory college courses often differ dramatically from those used in high school courses, and dissatisfaction with these practices is cited by students as a prominent reason for leaving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors. To better characterize the transition to college course work, we investigated the extent to which incoming expectations of course activities differ based on student demographic characteristics, as well as how these expectations align with what students will experience. We surveyed more than 1500 undergraduate students in large introductory STEM courses at three research-intensive institutions during the first week of classes about their expectations regarding how class time would be spent in their courses. We found that first-generation and first-semester students predict less lecture than their peers and that class size had the largest effect on student predictions. We also collected classroom observation data from the courses and found that students generally under-predicted the amount of lecture observed in class. This misalignment between student predictions and experiences, especially for first-generation and first-semester college students and students enrolled in large-and medium-size classes, has implications for instructors and universities as they design curricula for introductory STEM courses with explicit retention goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberar60
JournalCBE life sciences education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant nos. DUE-1712074, DUE-1712060, and DUE-1347814, the Provost’s Gateway Initiative at Cornell University, and the Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell University. This research was considered exempt from institutional review: University of Maine protocol 2017-05-12, University of Nebraska–Lincoln 20170617341, and Cornell University protocol 1806008047. We thank Drs. Natasha Holmes, Peter LePage, Frank Castelli, Nicole Chodkowski, and Emily Smith for their feedback on this article. We also greatly appreciate the faculty and students who participated in this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 C. L. Meaders et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education.


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