An application of student learner profiling: comparison of students in different degree programs

Elizabeth May, Charlotte Taylor, Mary Peat, Anne M. Barko, Rosanne Quinnell

Abstract


The ability to profile students by assessing their approaches to study and conceptions of discipline is valuable for educators at all levels. Detailed analysis of these factors has been undertaken in science disciplines at the University of Sydney to (i) determine the academic profiles of students in the cohorts we teach; and (ii) determine whether our teaching practices and the learning environment we provide stimulate the development of the student profiles we regard as desirable in a science graduate and, ultimately, in the professional scientist. At tertiary level, this analysis is complicated by the various degree programs that intersect in compulsory or service units of study, particularly at the first year level, and it is therefore essential that we understand the extent to which we are serving students in all degree programs. Our first year biology classes are large (up to 1500) and the unit Concepts in Biology (semester 1) is both a pre-requisite for further study in Biology and a compulsory service course for a range of degree programs (e.g. Medical Biotechnology, Pharmacy, Nutrition). We performed a cluster analysis on survey data combining measures of student approaches to study, conceptions of biology and performance in assessment after completing one semester of biology and examined the proportions of students in each of four clusters: two ‘positive’ (deep achievers and enthusiastic achievers) and two with less desirable profiles (surface strategists and neutral). Chi-squared analysis indicated no significant difference in distribution of students enrolled in Arts, Science and Pharmacy between the four clusters (p = 0.104). A significant difference was, however, detected at the level of science degree program (p < 0.002), with the Bachelor of Science (Marine) and Bachelor of Science contributing most to the difference. Implications of our analysis and further applications of learner profiling for informing improvements in science curricula, teaching and assessment will be discussed.

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