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UBC Theses and Dissertations

International students' epistemologies and learning experiences in specially designed first-year chemistry courses Lekhi, Priya Anka


First-year university science courses are often challenging for a majority of students coming out of high school, with international students having even greater adjustment difficulties. This may be due to differences between the epistemologies held by the students and the epistemological expectations of the science courses. Active learning environments have different epistemological expectations than traditional lectures and international students may have inadequate prior experiences with this mode of learning science. Thus, an exploratory case study approach to investigate first-year international students’ epistemologies and experiences in their chemistry courses within the Vantage One Science Program was conducted. Vantage One Programs, which reside in Vantage College at the University of British Columbia, admits and offers first-year programs to international students from non-English speaking countries. The case study largely employed a mixed methods methodology that used both quantitative and qualitative tools for data collection. To assess the students’ epistemologies, the Epistemological Beliefs about Physical Sciences (EBAPS) instrument was administered three times during the program. The three data sets were analyzed using exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis to determine dominant factors underlying the students’ responses to the items on the EBAPS, interpreted as a description of the key student epistemologies. Student grades from CHEM 121 and CHEM 123 courses were also collected and correlated with scores from the EBAPS questionnaire. Qualitative methods were used to examine students’ epistemologies and their views on their experiences. These methods included classroom observations, one-on-one semi-structured and task-based interviews and focus group interviews. The results indicate that some aspects of student epistemologies transformed over the course of the first year Vantage program while others aspects remained the same. When factors did transform, they transformed towards more canonical epistemologies. Transformations included valuing peers and oneself as a source of science knowledge and becoming more aware of the nature of science. Some of these transformations can be attributed to the pedagogy experienced in Vantage One Science Program, including the use of peer-learning pedagogy and inquiry-based learning. Both qualitative and quantitative data suggest that more canonical views are associated with positive study approaches, problem-solving strategies, and academic performance.

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