Case study of non-traditional students re-entry into college physics and engineering




Langton, Stewart Gordon

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Two groups of students in introductory physics courses of an Access Program for engineering technologies were the subjects of this study. Students with a wide range of academic histories and abilities were enrolled in the program; many of the students were re-entry and academically unprepared for post-secondary education. Five years of historical data were evaluated to use as a benchmark for revised instruction. Data were gathered to describe the pre-course academic state of the students and their academic progress during two physics courses. Additional information was used to search for factors that might constrain academic success and as feedback for the instructional methods. The data were interpreted to regulate constructivist design features for the physics courses. The Engineering Technology Access Program was introduced to meet the demand from non-traditional students for admission to two-year engineering technology programs, but who did not meet normal academic requirements. The duration of the Access Program was two terms for electronic and computer engineering students and three terms for civil and mechanical engineering students. The sequence of mathematics and physics courses was different for the two groups. The Civil/Mechanical students enrolled in their first mathematics course before undertaking their first physics course. The first mathematics and physics courses for the Electronics students were concurrent. Academic success in the two groups was affected by this difference. Over a five-year period the success rate of students graduating with a technology diploma was approximately twenty-five percent. Results from this study indicate that it was possible to reduce the very high attrition in the combined Access/Technology Programs. While the success rate for the Electronics students increased to 38% the rate for the Civil/Mechanical students increased dramatically to 77%. It is likely that several factors, related to the extra term in the Access Program for the Civil/Mechanical students, contributed to this high retention rate. Additional time, with less academic pressure in the first term of the Access Program, provided the Civil/Mechanical students with the opportunity to develop academic skills and maturity resulting in improved self-concept and academic identity. These students may have been better equipped to take advantage of the alternate instructional setting of the revised physics courses. Results from a wide range of studies in Physics Education Research provide ideas and opportunities to improve instruction and students conceptual understanding in introductory physics courses. Most studies focus on traditional students and curriculum. The development and implementation of alternate curriculum and instruction may improve outcomes for different groups of students, particularly for students in disciplines indirectly related to the sciences.



physics, engineering, study and teaching, higher education