Pivoting to Remote Learning: An Inquiry-Based Laboratory Closed Gaps in Self-Efficacy and Science Identity Between Students from Underrepresented Groups and Their Counterparts

Wilczek et al. / Journal of Chemical Education / April 2022

Large introductory STEM courses have a reputation as “weed out” classes. These classes and their laboratory components are more often viewed by students as hurdles to overcome than valuable learning experiences relevant to their future careers. This perception especially impacts students who have a lower science identity and self-efficacy compared to their peers, which is often true for students who identify as being from groups historically underrepresented in STEM or first-generation college students. In Fall 2020, the curriculum for a second-semester organic chemistry course was redesigned as an entirely remote, inquiry-based course focused on transferable skills. The chemistry explored was epoxidation and epoxide-opening reactions, which students learned about in lectures early in the semester. Students evaluated reaction progress using real and complex data, and they integrated their learning in the form of a final group presentation.

The emphasis of this course was on transferable skills, not specific reactions or laboratory techniques. The latter were used as vehicles by which to teach students how to analyze data, interpret results, and develop their communication skills. Student survey responses demonstrated that this remote course helped all students increase their self-efficacy and science identity. However, in just one semester, the pre-existing gaps in self-efficacy and science identity between students from underrepresented groups (historically underrepresented groups and first-generation college students) and their peers closed entirely. Taken together, these results suggest the incredible value of an inquiry-based laboratory curriculum, even in a remote course. This is a particularly valuable approach in large introductory courses, which are a site of significant attrition in STEM career pathways.