Fear of Negative Evaluation and Student Anxiety in Community College Active-Learning Science Courses

CBE – Life Sciences Education / May 2020

Student anxiety is a growing concern for colleges and universities. As science classrooms transition from traditional lecture to active learning, researchers have sought to understand how active learning affects undergraduate anxiety. However, although community colleges educate nearly half of all undergraduates, no studies have explored the relationship between anxiety and active learning in the context of community college science courses. In this study, the authors interviewed 29 students enrolled across nine community colleges in the southwestern United States to probe factors that increase and decrease their anxiety in active-learning science courses. Using inductive coding, the authors identified a set of common factors that affect community college student anxiety in active learning. The authors found that community college student anxiety decreased when students perceived that active-learning activities enhanced their learning by providing them with multiple ways of learning or the opportunity to learn from others. The authors also identified fear of negative evaluation as the primary construct underlying student anxiety in active learning and described factors that mediated students’ fear of negative evaluation in the community college science classroom. This work highlights how instructors can create more inclusive active-learning science classrooms by reducing student anxiety during active-learning instruction.