Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biological and Environmental Sciences


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Bryan M. Dewsbury


Post-secondary students often have difficulty with self-regulated learning, particularly in terms of monitoring and accurately assessing their level of understanding and how that is translated into appropriate preparation for their rigorous college/university coursework. With the persistence of academic outcome gaps between marginalized and non-marginalized students in gateway STEM courses and concomitant differences in retention and graduation rates, it is important to understand how self-regulation of learning is developed in students in general, and among different student identities. Interventions and teaching practices need to be cognizant of the unique academic experience of students from different identities if they are to narrow nagging academic outcome gaps. In this dissertation, I investigate how aspects of self-regulated learning change for first-year students over the semester in an introductory biology course. I also explore how providing reflective opportunities for students to develop their metacognition independently, and their ability to make judgments about themselves as a learner, differ among student identity groups and these opportunities can improve academic performance.

Several subscales of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) were used to determine levels of self-regulated learning at the start and end of first-year students’ introductory biology course. MANOVAs were conducted on survey scores from the start of the semester and again on changes between the start and end of the semester. Lower usage of higher cognitive and metacognitive strategies was detected for first-generation students of color at the beginning of the semester. Over the semester, decreases in task value for first-generation students were detected. Large decreases were also observed in self-efficacy and metacognitive strategy use for students of color who performed poorly on the first exam. The surveys demonstrated that different student identities develop self-regulated learning differently over the course of a semester.

An intervention was designed to address student development of self-regulated learning, specifically metacognition. The Ace Your Course Challenge (AYCC) was a multi-week reflective survey intervention that followed a workshop on metacognition and effective study strategies. Interpretive qualitative analysis was performed on student responses and their experiences were compared between different student identities. Patterns of behavior were also analyzed. Finally, quantitative analyses were conducted to determine what impacts the AYCC had on academic performance measures. Self-reported improvements in learning included an improvement in confidence and preparedness for classes and exams, and better understanding and retention of course content. Students who described an increase in their confidence during the first week were two times more likely to complete the AYCC and the completion of the AYCC was correlated with a higher semester GPA regardless of student identity, prior academic performance, and strategy choice or outcome description. When integrated into an academic probationary program, the AYCC yielded slightly higher rates of successful completion of the program compared to previous years. The patterns of behaviors observed supported the impact of the AYCC on metacognitive skill development and additionally provided evidence of the importance of motivation at various time points throughout the AYCC.

Overall, findings indicate the importance of understanding student motivation and its impacts relating to how students engage with higher education, specific courses, and learning interventions. When students find personal value in the content of the course, it encourages motivation for learning. Instructors need to promote a sense of value and relevance to their course content with an understanding that students from different backgrounds have different motivations for attending colleges and universities. In addition to an inclusive curriculum, course design needs to include early assessments that are minimal in weight when compared against the final course grade, such as quizzes or graded homework, that could indicate a possible lack of motivation. It is also important to implement supplemental interventions for those who struggle with these early assessments. Completion of the AYCC supported metacognitive skill development and was associated with greater academic success but the impact of student motivation proved important in the completion of the intervention and needs to be integrated more intentionally in future implementations.

Available for download on Sunday, April 09, 2023