I am not a good writer (I have trouble with remembering what a noun, verb & adjective is at times). The scariest thing for me about doing my MSc is that I have to write assignments, not just write them but write ‘academically’. I was told my one of my tutors that I just need to start, it doesn’t matter what you write just get some stuff down in whatever order you want and then you can edit later. This is probably the greatest thing about word pressing that you can start to write at whatever point you see fit. So today (finally) I started to write, here’s what I did (I have not edited it at all)…
Research Methods in Science Education Assignment
I decided to look into the reasons why students decide to study sciences after GCSEs. This was in response to a story in The Guardian stating that the increase in exam entries in A Level physics was due to the popularity of Brian Cox and The Big Bang Theory. Does the media image of science really reflect in an increase in students wanting to study the subject. I am pretty sure that the number of students choosing science at A Level had decreased for a while and was now back on the up and this was due to students turning away from the ‘easy’ A Levels that had become popular in recent years. Also with the increase in university fees students may feel that if they are going to pay £9000 for a degree it better be in a more useful and respected subject such as the sciences. As a teacher working in the post compulsory sector (FE) I am also interested in what influences students’ decision to study A Level science as that may help with recruitment onto the course, the teaching of the subject (especially the more ‘dull’ parts of the course), maintaining student motivation and therefore hopefully improving success and retention rates. I am also interested if there is any difference in students influences depending on the subject they are studying, is sex is important or the type of school that students go to.
As I am interested in what a large number students think, a survey was the best option rather than a few in-depth interviews. An online survey would be easy to administer to a large number of students who not only study science where I teach but also study in other institutions. There are always inherent issues with getting surveys completed online and even more when asking people to do it over the impersonal nature of email but I was interested in whether a crowd sourcing way of getting students to complete the survey would work. I am active on twitter as a teacher and have many followers and friends who are science teachers. I take part regularly in the #asechat and #sciteachjc two hashtag discussion groups where science teachers can chat about specific topics related to their teaching, swap ideas and learn more about the research in science education. I wondered if I asked my followers on twitter if they could get their students to fill out the survey if
a) I would get any replies
b) If someone said they would do it if they actually did
c) If students would actually take the time to fill out the survey
This way of collecting the data is a self-selecting survey and so is not as random as other survey designs but with the issues with online surveys maybe it is better to get some replies rather than none especially considering the small time frame. The glocal nature of twitter means that the students that might complete the survey will be from a wide range of backgrounds and could possibly generate an accurate representation of the student population. There will always be some people who will never fill out an online survey and some teachers who say they’ll help but never do but it is an avenue worth exploring as is possible a free way of getting data from a varied set of people.
My background research into the previous work on student influences on subject choice was not amazingly successful. I found two papers that were directly linked to my area of interest
HARVARD, N. (1996) ‘Student attitudes to studying A-level sciences’. Public Understanding of Science 5(4): 321–30.
James, K (2007) Factors influencing students’ choice (s) of experimental science subjects within the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Journal of Research in International Education 6:9
They both stated that Interest in the subject and university course requirements were the key factors in students choosing science subject. Both these papers had conducted surveys to gain their data so back up my idea to carry out a survey. From these papers I could gain an idea of what the major influences seem to be for students then find out if this is still true and if there is anything missing by conducting a small focus group of students before deigning the survey for data collection.
A systematic review by the Welcome Trust (Newman, M., Bangpan, M., Tripney, J. (2010) Factors Influencing Young People (Aged 14-19) in Education about STEM Subject Choices: A systematic review of the UK literature, Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) ISBN 978-1-84129-087-4) also came to the same conclusions for Post 16 education. This review cited both of the initial papers I found which was good as it backed up their legitimacy as well as confirming their conclusions. The influence of the media is touched upon in all these papers but is not considered a major factor in student influence.