Chapter 3: Literacies across the disciplines
3.3.4 The impact of student attitudes on laboratory reports (research essay)
English 102, November 2020
In a majority of science laboratory classes students will be required to write a lab report. I have taken four chemistry labs and three biology labs in college and I was required to write lab reports every week for these labs. At first, I found writing these reports to be a struggle as I have never written one before college. Many other students I know struggled in the beginning and some still do. Over time I found it much easier to write lab reports. It is a necessary skill that is learned over time and with practice, but many students struggle with it.
Generally, a lab report is written in a format that is similar to a science journal article. The lab report is split into different sections which includes the title, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. The title emphasizes the focus of the experiment. From my experiences the title has the same name as the lab that was done. The introduction presents the general objectives of the experiment and provides important background information about the specific science topic the experiment is on. The materials and methods section provides what materials were used in the experiment and the steps that were taken to complete the experiment. The results section summarizes the data that was collected using graphs, charts, math, or descriptions of the physical/chemical changes that occurred. The discussion section discusses the results that were found and compares them to what the true results should be. This section also explains what could have went wrong in the experiment that made the results not perfect and what could be done next time to improve results. Lastly, the conclusion summarizes the main objectives of the experiment, important results, and what could be done to improve results in the future.
When people think of doing a science laboratory class, they generally do not think about the writing that is involved in them. It is believed that learning to write a lab report is one of the most important things in a science laboratory class. The main reasons learning to write lab report is important is because it helps students understand the concepts that were done in the experiment and it prepares them for future careers that will require them to write scientific journals. Literacy is especially important when it comes to a lab report. The writer needs to be able to effectively write about the specific topic, their research findings, and the conclusions drawn from the experiment. To do this, the writer needs to understand what they are writing about and be able to write for an audience specifically in the science field. It is important to be able to do this because scientific journals are the primary means of communicating important results to other scientists.
A large percentage of students have negative attitudes towards writing lab reports. The article “How Attitudes Affect Grades” states “An attitude is some state of mind about an object, fact, or situation.”. Lab reports cause many students to have stress, anxiety, and general negative attitudes which is shown to lead to lower grades. I have personally heard more students say they hate writing lab reports than students saying they like them or do not mind them. I have also heard students say they think lab reports are a waste of time. My own attitudes about writing lab reports were negative at first because I did not understand how to write one and they were intimidating. This led me to procrastinate when it came to writing lab reports and it caused me to have stress which just made me not want to do it even more. This made me rush my lab reports and not do my best work which means I did not get the best grade I could have gotten. Negative attitudes affect what we expect of ourselves which affects our actions. This leads to limited performance, lower motivation, and inhibits learning. It is said that attitude is equally as important as ability for success. The article “Effects of Students Attitude on Their Performance” states “Success is 80% attitude and 20% aptitude.”.
The article “The Relationships between University Students’ Chemistry Laboratory Anxiety, Attitudes, and Self-Efficacy Beliefs” explains a study that was done on negative feelings and how they affected the performance of student in a chemistry laboratory. This article states “Affective dimensions of learning such as anxiety, attitudes, and self-efficacy are perceived as important predictors of student performance in laboratory situations.” (p1-2). Chemistry laboratory anxiety is caused by many things which include previous bad experiences in science classes, exposure to anxious science teachers who taught in elementary and secondary schools, lack of role models, gender and racial stereotyping, and the stereotyping of scientists in the media. This study found that “attitude can account for nearly 30% of the variance in achievement.” (p.3) and found students with negative attitudes obtained lower examination marks. Self-efficacy is a person’s beliefs about their ability to successfully perform a given task. This determines if a person will do the given task, the amount of effort towards the task, and how much persistence they have when faced with obstacles. Students with high self-efficacy choose more challenging tasks, use more effort, and do not easily give up. Students with low self-efficacy avoid challenging takes, use minimal effort, and have a higher chance of giving up. Many of my articles have stated that there needs to be change on how writing lab reports are taught so students have better attitudes toward them and receive better grades.
There have been multiple studies done on different approaches to writing a laboratory report to increase positive attitudes in students and increase their grades. I will be going over six different studies that focused on attitudes and grades of college students. The first study is “Developing Technical Writing Skills in the Physical Chemistry Laboratory: A Progressive Approach Employing Peer Review” by Derek Gragson and John Hagen. The authors developed an approach that uses peer review and revision components for the lab reports. The three principles the authors believe are essential to improving technical writing skill include: “less is sometimes more, initial guidance on writing and expectations that is gradually reduced leads to autonomy, and experience with the review and revision processes is essential to developing writing skills.” (62). Students were given a Calibrated Peer Review (CPR) tool and Integrated Writing Guide (IWG) for the class. The IWG allowed students to become critical readers of their own work and helped them become better at peer reviewing (64). The CPR and writing cycle mimic the process of how journal articles are written as a real-world chemist (64). For the first experiment students were required to write and abstract and materials section on their own which was later peer reviewed (62). Then students grouped up and wrote a formal report for the experiment (62). The authors have seen significant improvements in the quality of the lab reports. This believe to be due to the mixture of the IWG, CPR, and writing cycle (65).
The second study is “Creative Report Writing in Undergraduate Organic Chemistry Laboratory Inspires Nonmajors” by Maged Henary, Eric Owens, and Joseph Tawney. The authors believe that a more creative approach to writing a lab report is beneficial for new organic chemistry students as it promotes appreciation and understanding of presented material (90). This method “encourages students to be creative and serves as a gentle introduction into writing laboratory reports and helps alleviate the start to the unfamiliar task of scientific writing.” (91). For this approach students are still required to correctly annotate and describe their compounds, but they can do so by telling a story rather than doing so in a traditional way. For example, a student could write a story about living in a fairytale land but the story must still contain the concepts learned from the experiment and the compounds from the experiment. It has been shown students using this approach demonstrated a higher degree of understanding and makes them excited for the course (92). The students were given a survey in which they had to answer questions on a scale of 1-5 on whether they disagreed or agreed with a statement (92). This survey showed that students excitement and understanding of the material increased, they came out of the class more prepared and knowledgeable, and half the students even said they were more likely to consider a career in chemistry (92).
The third study is “Writing Activities Embedded in Bioscience Laboratory Courses to Change Students’ Attitudes and Enhance their Scientific Writing” by Susan Lee, Kyra Woods, and Kathryn Tonissen. The authors suggest using an approach that utilizes in-course writing activities (195). The authors suggest that a challenge in teaching a science course is finding ways to effectively engage students with scientific communication and writing (193). A suggested barrier to this is students tend to like doing experiments but do not enjoy writing (193). The writing activities used in the laboratory were made to engage students, make connections to their future careers, promote collaborative learning, and teach them how to provide a basic model for scientific writing (196). Completing each activity allowed the students to construct their laboratory report while performing their experiment (196). The students were also able to get advice from a tutor or course coordinator during this time (196). Each writing assignment came with a checklist that focused on the requirements for a scientific paper and collaborative learning was encouraged by peer review (196). The first activity aimed to make sure students read the laboratory manual, completed background research, and understood the point of the project (197). The second activity focused on how to present figures in the results section of the laboratory report (197). The final activity involved the discussion section of the laboratory report (197). A survey was given to students and the results showed there was a high increase in confidence of students ability to write a scientific report, an increase in confidence for finding journal articles using databases, and students found the activities useful and had positive learning outcomes (197-198).
The fourth study is “Inquiry-Based Writing in the Laboratory Course” by Cary Moskovitz and David Kellogg. The authors believe that inquiry-based writing is beneficial to students. The authors believe that for inquiry-based writing to be successful, there needs to be three modifications to the inquiry lab (919). These modifications include using forms of writing in the laboratory report that are similar to writing used by scientists, writing tasks need to be aligned with what is going on in the laboratory so students have meaningful things to say, and lastly students need to write for a real audience (919). This first step in inquiry-based writing is to assign writing activities that use the form scientists use (919). The second step is aligning student writing with lab activities (920). This step has students present and discuss results (920). The last step is to provide students with a real audience for their work (920). This step shows students the constraints faced by real scientists (920). The authors also suggest that instructors need to shift from graders to scientists, so students are required to make scientific arguments rather than just reproduce scientific arguments (920). This approach has shown that students are more likely to find tasks meaningful and engaging (920).
The fifth study is “Using Journal Articles to Teach Writing Skills for Laboratory Reports in General Chemistry” by Luanne Tilstra. Tilstra uses an approach that teaches students how to properly construct a report and helps them understand the chemical concepts (762). This specific approach is used for students taking their first college chemistry course (762). In the first week of the quarter students are asked to find an article from the Journal of the American Chemical Society and create a properly formatted citation (762). This allows students to practice what is considered a low-level writing skill (762). As the quarter goes on, the writing tasks get harder. For the second report of the quarter, the students begin a higher level of writing such as classification and organization of data (763). Students are also required to write a critique on someone else’s work. The third report asks students to write a discussion section (763). The fourth report focuses on making good figures and using the high-level writing skill of critical analysis (763). This approach has shown that students do a better job at describing their observations, it lowered complaining, and it increased their writing confidence (764).
The last study is “Stepwise Approach to Writing Journal-Style Lab Reports in the Organic Chemistry Course Sequence” by Jay Wackerly. Wackerly believes using a stepwise approach would be beneficial to students as it helps build rhetorical skills in scientific and technical writing (76). This approach is based on the framework of stepwise writing, collaborative writing, journal-style reports, and imitation (76). The stepwise approach has students basically write their report in steps from the lowest skill to the highest skill throughout the semester (76). For each lab, it is required to write a post laboratory assignment (78). The students first experience report writing one-third into the semester (78). Students are asked to supply aspects of the procedure and data gathered during the experiment which is known as the “results” (78). For the second report, students wrote the results and discussion which increases the writing level from low to medium (78). The final reports are full reports which is a high level of writing (78). Increasing the writing complexity overtime allowed students to learn the expectations of journal-style writing and gave them a smoother transition into organic chemistry from a general chemistry lab (79). Most students wrote their reports with their lab partner which is an important skill to have for many careers (79). Students also were asked to peer review other work, which is also an essential skill to many careers (79). Students wrote their reports in the style of The Journal of Organic Chemistry format (79). This allowed students to be “introduced to technical writing in a manner that “real scientists” use to communicate information.” (80). This approach showed improvement in students’ writings (78). Students felt that this approach improved their writing skills and made them feel like better scientists (81).
There have also been other methods than changing the way lab reports are taught that have been studied and can help improve students’ attitudes and thus improve their grades. The article “The relationships between University Students’ Chemistry Laboratory Anxiety, Attitudes, and Self-Efficacy Beliefs” by Izzet Kurbanoglu and Ahmet Akim states “Studetnts’ chemistry attitudes are important factors highly associated with chemistry success and motivation.” (p.6). Students who have positive attitudes towards chemistry have a higher chance of sustaining their efforts and want to be involved in learning tasks. The article also states, “students’ self-efficacy beliefs play an integral role in their academic motivation, learning, and achievement.” (p.6). It has been shown that students who believe they can by successful academically ten to have a greater interest in academic work, set higher goals, use greater effort, and are more resilient to difficulties.
The article “How Attitudes Affect Grades” by Dennis Congos claims it is possible to change an attitude (p.2). The article specifically states “For success in acquiring attitudes that promote your success you must be willing to admit and face the truth about yourself and admit and face the truth about what you are willing to change.” (p.2). From personal experience, I also believe this to be true. You first must admit that something is wrong and commit to a change to see improvement. This article has provided a model that has exercises/questions to help someone see how they can replace their negative attitudes that could be limiting their success. There are eight exercises/questions in the model. The first on asks, “Identify a negative or limiting attitude you have about something related to college and write it down.” (p.2). This question can be about literally anything involving college whether it be stress, social situations, or even pressure from family. To make any change you must identify what is causing the negative attitudes. The second question asks, “Declare to yourself that you intend to change.” (p.2) This step requires you to write a statement that states your intention to change an attitude. It then requires you to re-word the limiting attitude in a positive way. This is important to do because generally you tend to do what you tell yourself to do which influences attitudes. The third question asks, “List 3 people who you believe currently have the positive attitude you recorded in question 2.” (p.2). This step is important because we tend to be like those who we surround ourselves with and who we admire.
Question four asks, “List 3 different behaviors or actions you can do tat could lead to other to believe that you have new attitude.” (p.2). This step is important because practicing a certain attitude can help you become better at it and thus improve the attitude overall. Question five asks, “Describe 3 situations in which you commonly find yourself where you could practice the 3 behaviors or actions listed above.” (p.2). More practice means the attitude will become a habitual habit. Question six asks, “List 3 people you could talk to about changing and becoming more the person you want to be.” (p.3). Telling someone your intentions generally makes you follow what you said you will do. Question seven asks, “List 3 times during the day when you intend to visualize what you will be like and how you will feel once you acquire this new attitude.” (p.3). Visualizing yourself doing something tends to encourage you to do that thing. The last question asks, “Write down at least one way to reward yourself for acting in a way that demonstrates your new attitude.” (p.3). Rewards tend to encourage you to continue to repeat whatever it is you are rewarding yourself for. Using this model could improve negative attitudes which could increase grades.
The article “Utility Value Intervention in a College Biology Lab: The Impact on Motivation” by Kevin Curry Jr., Dan Spencer, Ondra Pesout, and Kimberly Pigford compared the outcomes of students who had utility value intervention in the biology lab and those who did not. These authors believe that “requiring students to generate their own utility value toward a task, followed by written reflection, increases students’ maintained and situational interest for biology laboratory reports.” (p.232). The authors believe that science graduates often have poor scientific writing and critical thinking skills due to students being unmotivated (p.233). The interventions used in this study were used to motivate students to engage with the course content rather than motivate students to engage in the writing task itself (p.234). Utility value represents and person’s view on the usefulness of scientific writing or future goals (p.234). It has been shown that high levels of utility value are positively related to academic outcomes (p.235). High levels of utility value have also shown positive results in math, social science, writing, and educational psychology (p.235).
Before further explaining this study, it is important to understand a couple of terms. Firstly, anything that is “directly-communicated” refers to information that was supplied to students with value related information (p.235). Lastly, anything that is “self-generated” refers to the values that students provided themselves (p.235). Throughout the semester participants were given 5 five-minute interventions that had a theme involving the utility value of scientific writing (p.239). Self-reported measures were completed through an online survey (p.240). There were four groups included in this study. The first group was the directly-communicated group. Students received external information about the utility value of lab reports and did not have a follow-up exercise (p.240). The self-generated group had students create their own thoughts of the utility value of lab reports using self-reflective brainstorming sessions (p.240). No videos were used in this group. The hybrid group was a combination of direct communication and self-generation of utility value of lab reports (p.240). Lastly, the control group were not exposed to the utility value of lab reports during the interventions (p.240).
Results have shown that the self-generated and hybrid group showed a higher utility value than the control group by the end of the semester (p.242). The self-generated group also reported a significantly higher situation interest compared to the directly-communicated group (p246.). Compared to the control group, the self-generated group showed the greatest promise for increasing motivation toward laboratory reports (p.246). These results suggest that using brainstorming sessions and written reflections show the greatest promise for increasing the value of scientific writing in a college laboratory (p.248).
Even though many of the studies I explained have shown promising results, there is still more research that is needed to continue to either prove or refute these results. The article “Using Journal Articles to Teach Writing Skills for Laboratory Reports in General Chemistry” explained that future studies could show that students who create data tables learn more about how the data fits together to solve a problem (p.764). The article “Creative Report Writing in Undergraduate Organic Chemistry Laboratory Inspires Nonmajors” mentions having students in lower-level chemistry classes use this technique to see if the results are similar (p.95). The article “The Relationships between University Students’ Chemistry Laboratory Anxiety, Attitudes, and self-efficacy” mentions that future studies should involve more student populations and use more than just correlational statistics (p.8).
The article “Utility Value Interventions in a College Biology Lab: The Impact on Motivation” brough up multiple options for future studies which include exploring the casual effect of utility value, should be conducted in an authentic classroom context, account for individuals’ confidence in tasks and the degree of personal connections a task and their life, consider students’ perceptions of autonomy when designing directly-communicated and hybrid interventions, explore changes in value across shorter periods of time, expand the study design to include an additional condition that involves brainstorming followed by a control task, integrate similar types of interventions within other aspects of the course such as class lectures, value-enhancing activities that take place only in the classroom environment, utilize qualitative analysis to compare essay between the self-generated and directly-communicated group, and examine the impact of utility interventions on college students’ scientific writing and their academic performance in the science field (p.235-236, 247-248). Many of the other articles have stated similar studies need to be done but with a larger participant size.
Many articles have stated there needs to be a change in how laboratory reports are taught so students will have more positive attitudes which increases their performance and grades. It has been shown that student attitudes can make a big impact on grades. Students with negative attitudes tend to have lower grades and performance while those with positive attitudes have higher grades and performance. So far, there have been multiple studies on the different types of teaching and also other methods that can be used to improve student attitudes through self-reflection. Although these studies show very promising results, there still needs to be further research to have more evidence of these positive effects.
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