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Journal of Animal Science - Special Topics

A retrospective look at students enrolled in an upper-level horse science class: Factors that affect classroom performance12

 

This article in JAS

  1. Vol. 91 No. 6, p. 2976-2984
     
    Received: Oct 3, 2012
    Accepted: Feb 17, 2013
    Published: November 25, 2014


    3 Corresponding author(s): douthit@ksu.edu
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doi:10.2527/jas.2012-5936
  1. T. L. Douthit 3,
  2. J. M. Bormann and
  3. J. M. Kouba
  1. Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, Kansas State University, Manhattan 66506

Abstract

The objective of this study was to retrospectively analyze demographic variables and academic preparation of students to determine how these factors relate to student performance in ASI 521 Horse Science, an upper-level course offered in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) at Kansas State University (KSU). Data were collected for 264 students enrolled in the course from 2008 to 2010. Students who took the course in 2008 received greater final percentages than those who took the course in subsequent years (P = 0.0016). Females tended to receive greater percentages than males (P = 0.096). Location of origin of students did not affect percentages earned (P > 0.26). Although class standing (P = 0.35) did not affect the final percentages that students earned, transfer students received lesser final percentages in the course (P = 0.020). If students were majoring in ASI, they fared better than those in other majors (P = 0.0097), but pre-veterinary medicine students performed similarly to non-pre-veterinary students (P = 0.49). Enrollment in the equine certificate program (which requires students to complete 20 credit hours of equine coursework) did not affect percentages earned (P = 0.89) nor did completion of any individual equine class before enrolling in ASI 521 (P > 0.19). Test scores earned on the American College Testing Program standardized test during high school were not reflective of classroom performance (P = 0.51), but KSU grade point average (GPA) was highly predictive (P < 0.0001), regardless of the term for which GPA was calculated. Students in the course took an identical comprehensive test at the beginning and end of the semester, and those test scores were also predictive of final percentage earned in ASI 521 (P ≤ 0.0002). In general, students with greater GPA performed better in ASI 521, so strategies aimed at improving classroom performance may best be targeted toward students with histories of poor academic performance.



INTRODUCTION

Animal Science departments across the country report strong interest in horses among their students (Moore et al., 2008; Peffer, 2011), and Kansas State University (KSU) is no exception. From 2008 to 2010, the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) had an average of 677 undergraduate majors. Of those, approximately 62 students also were enrolled each year in the Equine Science Certificate Program, which requires students to complete 20 credit hours of horse-related coursework. Students majoring in ASI are required to take at least 1 species production course as part of their curriculum, with most degree options requiring at least 2 of these courses. Horse Science (ASI 521) is a popular production course among KSU students, with annual enrollment generally ranging from 70 to 100 students, approximately 10 to 15% of the undergraduate population. Students are required to be juniors or seniors to enroll in the course, but there are no other prerequisites. Backgrounds of the students vary from those enrolled in the Equine Science Certificate Program who have taken many equine classes to those with a strong 4-H or FFA horse background to others with no equine background.

Overall grade point average (GPA), declared major, career goals, level of interest in a course, expectations of themselves, and American College Testing (ACT) Program scores as well as an assortment of other factors have been reported to have an impact on the grades students earn in a variety of courses (House and Prion, 1998; House, 2000; Pratt-Phillips and Schmitt, 2010). This study was conducted to determine which factors were most strongly correlated with student performance in ASI 521. These analyses may reflect similar trends in other courses and at other institutions, so these data may assist instructors in designing courses to best meet the needs of students and maximize student learning.


MATERIALS AND METHODS

All procedures used in this study were determined by the KSU Institutional Review Board to be exempt from review.

Data were collected retrospectively for students enrolled in ASI 521 in the spring semesters of 2008, 2009, and 2010 from the database of the university registrar. The course was team taught by 2 instructors in 2008, and 1 of these instructors took full responsibility for the course in 2009 and 2010. Data were also collected from the course grade book, focusing primarily on final numerical percentage received (as a percentage of total points possible), pretest score, and posttest score. The pre- and posttest were identical examinations that consisted of 30 questions designed to cover key concepts from each section addressed during the semester. The test was administered electronically to students at the beginning and conclusion of each semester. Students were given 3 to 5 d to complete the exam, which was accessible from any computer with Internet access. To encourage participation, all students who completed the pretest were given 10 points on their first quiz, regardless of the score received. At the conclusion of the semester, students were again given 10 points toward their last quiz for taking the posttest. If the scores of the students improved from pre- to posttest, they were given 2 points of extra credit. The objective was to encourage students to put forth effort to do well without giving them enough incentive to cheat. Students were instructed not to use notes or other materials during the exam, but they were not monitored. A time limit of 15 min was set to discourage students from taking time to look up answers. Scores were compared as an indicator of what the students learned (improvement from pre- to posttest) and how much information was retained (posttest score).

Variables recorded were semester the student took horse science (term), gender of the student, population of the hometown of the student, the class standing of the student when he or she took ASI 521, the number of horse classes the student had taken before ASI 521, ACT score, number of transfer credits, freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior GPA, last recorded KSU GPA (last GPA), and cumulative and semester GPA measured the semester before ASI 521, the semester enrolled in ASI 521, and the semester after enrollment in ASI 521. Other variables recorded were pretest and posttest score, improvement from pretest to posttest, and final percentage in Horse Science. As well, demographic factors included whether the student was a Kansas resident, from the Kansas City (KC) metropolitan (metro) area (defined as those whose permanent mailing addresses were KC or a contiguous suburban area), a transfer student (defined as more than 30 transfer credits), majoring in a degree program offered by the College of Agriculture (AG), majoring in ASI, enrolled in a Pre-Veterinary Science (PVS) option, or enrolled in the Equine Science Certificate Program (ESCP). This certificate program is offered to both ASI majors and nonmajors and requires 20 credit h of equine coursework for completion.

Statistical Analysis

All analyses were performed with the generalized linear model (SAS Inst. Inc., Cary, NC). Fixed effects included in the models for final percent earned in the course, pretest score, posttest score, and improvement from pre- to posttest were term, gender, Kansas residency status, location of hometown (KC metro or not), transfer status, AG student or not, ASI major or not, PVS or not, ESCP or not, class standing, and the category for the number of horse classes the student had taken previous to ASI 521 (Low = 0 to 1, Medium = 2 to 4, High = 5+). All 2-way interactions were included except those with AG. Because of the small number of students not in the College of Agriculture, those interactions could not be estimated. Interactions that were not significant (P > 0.05) were removed from the final model. Covariates included in the model were ACT, population of hometown, and last GPA. This final fixed effects model was then used to test the effect of the student taking each individual horse class. Because all measures of GPA were highly correlated, only 1 at a time could be evaluated in the model. Last recorded KSU GPA was dropped from the final model, and the other measures of GPA were added individually. Because of confounding, transfer status was dropped from the final model to test the covariate of number of transfer credits, and categorical number of horse classes was dropped from the final model to test number of horse classes. To determine the effect of pretest, posttest, and improvement from pre- to posttest on final percentage earned, those variables were individually added as covariates to the final fixed effects model for final percentage earned.


RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

When final course percentages were compared, students who took the course in 2008 (n = 100) received greater scores than those who took the course in 2009 (n = 94; Table 1; P = 0.0017) or 2010 (n = 68; P = 0.0029). Although no differences were observed between years in pretest scores (Table 2; P = 0.28), the students who enrolled in 2008 received lower scores on the posttest (Table 3) than those who took the course in 2009 (P = 0.0017) or 2010 (P = 0.0029). In turn, those students who took the course in 2008 also showed lesser improvement from the pretest to the posttest than those who took the course in 2010 (Table 4; P = 0.0058), and students who took the course in 2009 tended to show greater improvement than those who took the course in 2008 (P = 0.065). The discrepancy between final percentage and posttest scores, where students who took the course in 2008 received greater final percentages but lesser posttest scores, calls into question which is the most effective method of assessing student knowledge. The posttest, with only 30 questions, focused on general concepts whereas many assignments during class were much more detailed. The posttest also consisted of multiple choice questions, for each of which the student either received full credit or was counted incorrect, whereas many in-class assignments contained open-ended questions for which students might receive partial credit. Another important difference may have been a lack of pressure on students when taking the posttest; after all, they received their 10 points whether they did well or not. At the same time, the final percentage in the course included four 100-point exams, for which students with test anxiety may have underperformed. Keeping these limitations in mind, posttest scores did not indicate that the students who took the course in 2008 were more knowledgeable at the end of the semester than those who took the course in 2009 or 2010; the more likely difference was that the course was team taught in 2008 by 2 instructors. The instructor who taught one-half of the semester in 2008 gave quizzes that allowed students to work together whereas students were expected to work independently in 2009 and 2010. Otherwise, number and type of assignments, the majority of course content, and total points possible in the course remained the same from year to year. Grading standards or practices likely differed from 1 instructor to the other.


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 1.

Number of observations (n), least squares means (LSMean), SE, and overall P-values for final percentage earned in ASI 521 Horse Science for students meeting various demographic criteria

 
Factor Level n LSMean SE P-value
Term 2008 100 84.62a 1.78 0.0016
2009 94 80.83b 1.84
2010 68 80.72b 1.88
Gender Female 180 83.02 1.62 0.096
Male 82 81.10 1.92
Standing Sophomore 19 80.80 2.32 0.35
Junior 113 82.09 1.73
Senior 130 83.29 1.76
Residence Nonresident 36 83.00 2.12 0.26
Kansas resident 226 81.11 1.60
Hometown Kansas City metro 20 82.42 2.28 0.71
Not Kansas City metro 242 81.70 1.53
Transfer Transfer student 154 80.79a 1.84 0.020
Nontransfer student 108 83.32b 1.69
College Agriculture 250 81.44 1.52 0.65
Nonagriculture 12 82.67 2.64
Major Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) 222 84.18a 1.89 0.0097
Non-ASI 40 79.94b 1.85
Option Pre-veterinary science 97 81.65 1.86 0.49
Non pre-veterinary 165 82.46 1.70
Certificate Equine science 37 81.95 2.01 0.89
Not equine certificate 225 82.17 1.74
Previous equine classes 0 to 1 171 80.40 1.78a 0.079
2 to 4 56 83.22 1.89b
≥5 35 82.55 2.13ab
a,bMeans within a demographic grouping not sharing a common superscript differ (P < 0.05).

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 2.

Number of observations (n), least squares means (LSMean), SE, and overall P-values for pretest scores in ASI 521 Horse Science for students meeting various demographic criteria

 
Factor Level n LSMean SE P-value
Term 2008 88 14.70 0.93 0.28
2009 92 14.63 0.92
2010 68 13.84 0.98
Gender Female 170 13.94 0.88 0.077
Male 78 14.84 0.96
Standing Sophomore 19 14.31ab 1.29 0.0015
Junior 105 13.03a 0.96
Senior 124 15.83b 1.01
Residence Nonresident 35 13.87 1.12 0.25
Kansas resident 213 14.91 0.86
Hometown Kansas City metro 17 15.31a 1.14 0.047
Not Kansas City metro 231 13.47b 0.84
Transfer Transfer student 146 13.86a 0.96 0.031
Nontransfer student 102 14.92b 0.88
College Agriculture 236 14.17 0.85 0.72
Nonagriculture 12 14.61 1.26
Major Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) 209 15.85 1.01 0.015
Non-ASI 39 12.94 1.12
Option Pre-veterinary science 90 13.90 0.96 0.069
Non pre-veterinary 158 14.88 0.89
Certificate Equine science 36 15.02 1.00 0.10
Not equine certificate 212 13.76 0.93
Previous equine classes 0 to 1 161 14.69ab 1.12 0.030
2 to 4 54 15.72a 1.10
≥5 33 12.76b 1.00
a,bMeans within a demographic grouping not sharing a common superscript differ (P < 0.05).

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 3.

Number of observations (n), least squares means (LSMean), SE, and overall P-values for posttest scores in ASI 521 Horse Science for students meeting various demographic criteria

 
Factor Level n LSMean SE P-value
Term 2008 98 23.14a 0.74 0.057
2009 88 24.16b 0.76
2010 66 24.23b 0.77
Gender Female 174 24.12 0.67 0.24
Male 78 23.57 0.79
Standing Sophomore 18 23.79 0.96 0.51
Junior 111 23.60 0.72
Senior 123 24.15 0.73
Residence Nonresident 35 23.61 0.87 0.48
Kansas resident 217 24.09 0.66
Hometown Kansas City metro 19 24.07 0.95 0.59
Not Kansas City metro 233 23.62 0.62
Transfer Transfer student 146 23.62 0.85 0.58
Nontransfer student 106 24.07 0.75
College Agriculture 240 22.43a 0.63 0.011
Nonagriculture 12 25.26b 1.09
Major Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) 213 24.64a 0.78 0.020
Non-ASI 39 23.05b 0.76
Option Pre-veterinary science 96 23.72 0.77 0.60
Non pre-veterinary 156 23.98 0.70
Certificate Equine science 37 23.47 0.82 0.27
Not equine certificate 215 24.23 0.72
Previous equine classes 0 to 1 163 22.61a 0.78 0.78
2 to 4 54 24.62b 0.74 0.74
≥5 35 24.30b 0.88 0.88
a,bMeans within a demographic grouping not sharing a common superscript differ (P < 0.05).

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 4.

Number of observations (n), least squares means (LSMean), SE, and overall P-values for improvement from pre- to posttest in ASI 521 Horse Science for students meeting various demographic criteria

 
Factor Level n LSMean SE P-value
Term 2008 87 5.99a 1.12 0.019
2009 86 7.26ab 1.15
2010 66 8.06b 1.23
Gender Female 164 7.65 1.05 0.093
Male 75 6.59 1.22
Standing Sophomore 18 7.78 1.45 0.61
Junior 103 6.85 1.09
Senior 118 6.67 1.12
Residence Nonresident 34 5.70a 1.37 0.0080
Kansas resident 205 8.51b 1.04
Hometown Kansas City metro 17 6.74 1.43 0.54
Not Kansas City metro 222 7.46 1.02
Transfer Transfer student 138 7.84 1.27 0.21
Nontransfer student 101 6.37 1.21
College Agriculture 227 6.25 1.07 0.25
Nonagriculture 12 7.96 1.53
Major Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) 201 6.40 1.16 0.13
Non-ASI 38 7.80 1.21
Option Pre-veterinary science 90 7.33 1.20 0.49
Non pre-veterinary 149 6.87 1.09
Certificate Equine science 36 6.46 1.26 0.16
Not equine certificate 203 7.74 1.11
Previous equine classes 0 to 1 154 6.99ab 1.38 0.09
2 to 4 52 5.48a 1.44
≥5 33 8.84b 1.30
a,bMeans within a demographic grouping not sharing a common superscript differ (P < 0.05).

Gender distribution in colleges of agriculture and departments of animal sciences at other universities have reported ranges varying from as little as 40 (Scofield, 1995) to 55 (Dyer et al., 1996), 60 (Koon et al., 2009), 66 (Hoover and Marshall, 1998), and as high as 78% female (Peffer, 2011). The student population majoring in ASI at KSU is approximately 70% female. This student demographic was reflected in ASI 521; 68.9% of students enrolled in the class from 2008 to 2010 were female (n = 180). Although males (n = 82) tended to receive a greater score on the pretest (Table 2; P = 0.077), female students tended to perform an average of nearly 2% better in the course than their male counterparts (Table 1; P = 0.096). They also tended to show more improvement from pre- to posttest (Table 4; P = 0.093). This agrees with McMillan et al. (1999) and Lancaster and Robinson (2011), who reported females outperformed males in undergraduate agricultural courses. One explanation is that females may be more highly motivated or more willing to improve their academic skills (Aitken, 1982). Others have reported no gender-based differences in grades earned in agricultural courses (Mousel et al., 2006; Peffer, 2011), and Torres and Cano (1995) concluded that higher-order learning abilities do not differ between students enrolled in agricultural curricula based on gender.

Only 13 nonwhite students were enrolled in ASI 521 during this time frame (4.9%), which corresponds with other schools that have reported low minority enrollment in Colleges of Agriculture (Dyer et al., 1996). When comparing performance of those students with their Caucasian counterparts, we found no difference in percentage earned in the course (data not shown; P = 0.7682).

Although the prerequisite for ASI 521 is junior or senior standing, some students circumvented this requirement. The numbers for comparison were small, but those who took the class as sophomores (n = 19) earned final percentages comparable with those who took the class as juniors (n = 113) or seniors (n = 130; Table 1; P ≥ 0.35). Although it might be expected that study skills and academic abilities improve as students acquire more credit hours, this does not necessarily appear to be the case, as measured by either final percentage or posttest score.

We might assume that if a student is willing to pay nonresident tuition and move farther away from home, he or she might be more motivated to achieve good grades, but location of origin of students did not have a significant relationship to final percentage earned. Non-Kansas residents (n = 36) performed similarly to in-state students (n = 226; Table 1; P = 0.26), but Kansas residents showed greater improvement from pre- to posttest (Table 4; P = 0.008). Population of hometown also had no effect on any measurement of performance (Tables 5 to 8; P ≥ 0.14). Students from the KC metro area (n = 20) received greater scores on the pretest than students originating elsewhere (n = 242; Table 2; P = 0.047), but by the end of the semester both final percentages and posttest scores were similar between the 2 groups (Tables 1 and 2; P ≥ 0.59). Some researchers report that rural students tend to struggle more academically than urban students (Cope, 1972; Aylesworth and Bloom, 1976; Parker, 1993), but others have indicated that rural students are just as likely to persist (Williams and Luo, 2010) and graduate from college as urban students (Gibbs, 1989; Schonert and et al., 1991). Those from large cities probably had larger classes in high school, which may have made for a smoother adjustment to the atmosphere experienced in some of the larger university courses offered. In some cases, rural students may have had less rigorous academic training, but those students were probably more likely to have been involved in organizations such as 4-H and FFA, and they may have had more exposure to horses, all of which may have helped them to perform equally well in the course.


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 5.

Number of observations (n), regression coefficients (b), SE, and P-values for the regression of final percent in Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) 521 Horse Science on selected academic criteria

 
Covariate n b SE P-value
Population of hometown 229 –0.000004 0.000005 0.48
No. of transfer credits 229 –0.05 0.02 0.021
No. of horse classes previous to ASI 521 229 0.29 0.41 0.48
Last Kansas State University GPA1 229 13.75 0.90 <0.0001
GPA as a freshman 137 9.14 1.23 <0.0001
GPA as a sophomore 184 9.33 0.92 <0.0001
GPA as a junior 224 12.22 0.94 <0.0001
GPA as a senior 203 11.82 0.79 <0.0001
Cumulative GPA at the time of taking ASI 521 229 13.80 0.87 <0.0001
Semester GPA at the time of taking ASI 521 229 10.93 0.53 <0.0001
Cumulative GPA before taking ASI 521 221 10.96 1.11 <0.0001
Semester GPA before taking ASI 521 221 7.72 0.84 <0.0001
Cumulative GPA in semester after ASI 521 176 11.30 0.84 <0.0001
Semester GPA in semester after ASI 521 129 5.82 1.01 <0.0001
American College Testing Program score 229 0.02 0.03 0.51
1GPA = grade point average

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 6.

Number of observations (n), regression coefficients (b), SE, and P-values for the regression of pretest score in Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) 521 Horse Science on selected academic criteria

 
Covariate n b SE P-value
Population of hometown 218 0.000004 0.000002 0.14
No. of transfer credits 218 –0.01 0.01 0.17
No. of horse classes previous to ASI 521 218 0.16 0.20 0.41
Last Kansas State University GPA1 218 1.67 0.39 <0.0001
GPA as a freshman 131 1.22 0.52 0.02
GPA as a sophomore 174 1.38 0.41 0.0009
GPA as a junior 213 1.78 0.38 <0.0001
GPA as a senior 192 1.28 0.44 0.0038
Cumulative GPA at the time of taking ASI 521 218 1.94 0.38 <0.0001
Semester GPA at the time of taking ASI 521 218 1.28 0.27 <0.0001
Cumulative GPA before taking ASI 521 210 1.64 0.41 <0.0001
Semester GPA before taking ASI 521 210 1.01 0.31 <0.0011
Cumulative GPA in semester after ASI 521 166 1.89 0.46 <0.0001
Semester GPA in semester after ASI 521 119 –0.27 0.44 0.54
American College Testing Program score 218 0.01 0.01 0.42
1GPA = grade point average

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 7.

Number of observations (n), regression coefficients (b), SE, and P-values for the regression of posttest score in Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) 521 Horse Science on selected academic criteria

 
Covariate n b SE P-value
Population of hometown 221 –0.000002 0.000002 0.37
No. of transfer credits 221 –0.02 0.01 0.066
No. of horse classes previous to ASI 521 221 0.31 0.12 0.010
Last Kansas State University GPA1 221 2.47 0.38 <0.0001
GPA as a freshman 133 1.65 0.47 <0.0001
GPA as a sophomore 177 2.23 0.36 <0.0001
GPA as a junior 217 2.05 0.38 <0.0001
GPA as a senior 197 2.46 0.40 <0.0001
Cumulative GPA at the time of taking ASI 521 221 2.46 0.37 <0.0001
Semester GPA at the time of taking ASI 521 221 1.87 0.27 <0.0001
Cumulative GPA before taking ASI 521 214 1.95 0.40 <0.0001
Semester GPA before taking ASI 521 214 1.51 0.30 <0.0001
Cumulative GPA in semester after ASI 521 174 2.01 0.42 <0.0001
Semester GPA in semester after ASI 521 128 1.04 0.31 <0.0001
American College Testing Program score 221 –0.004 0.01 0.76
1GPA = grade point average

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 8.

Number of observations (n), regression coefficients (b), SE, and P-values for the regression of improvement from pre- to posttest score in Animal Sciences and Industry (ASI) 521 Horse Science on selected academic criteria

 
Covariate n b SE P-value
Population of hometown 211 0.0000002 0.000003 0.95
No. of transfer credits 211 –0.01 0.01 0.62
No. of horse classes previous to ASI 521 211 0.46 0.24 0.053
Last Kansas State University GPA1 211 1.01 0.51 0.049
GPA as a freshman 127 1.24 0.71 0.086
GPA as a sophomore 168 0.60 0.54 0.26
GPA as a junior 207 0.58 0.51 0.26
GPA as a senior 187 0.88 0.58 0.13
Cumulative GPA at the time of taking ASI 521 211 0.75 0.51 0.14
Semester GPA at the time of taking ASI 521 211 0.67 0.37 0.070
Cumulative GPA before taking ASI 521 204 0.53 0.53 0.32
Semester GPA before taking ASI 521 204 0.55 0.39 0.16
Cumulative GPA in semester after ASI 521 164 0.30 0.63 0.64
Semester GPA in semester after ASI 521 118 1.02 0.45 0.025
American College Testing Program score 211 –0.01 0.02 0.76
1GPA = grade point average

Enrollment numbers for the KSU College of Agriculture from 2008 to 2010 reflect a 32% transfer rate, which is similar to the 27% transfer rate reported by the Iowa State University College of Agriculture (Scofield, 1995). Transfer students (n = 154) received lesser final percentages in ASI 521 (Table 1; P = 0.020) than those who were not (n = 108); therefore, it is not surprising to note that when number of transfer credits was used as a covariate, it was negatively associated with final percentage earned in the course (Table 5; P = 0.021). When transfer students were compared with nontransfer students, they performed comparably on the posttest (Table 3; P = 0.58), but when transfer credits were used as a covariate, those with more transfer credit tended to perform more poorly on the posttest (Table 7; P = 0.066). This discrepancy indicates that although not all students who meet the transfer criteria (30 transfer credits) scored lower on the posttest, the more transfer credits they had, the more likely they were to receive a lower score. Many of the transfer students in this cohort had attended local community colleges, which may have had lower expectations of student performance. Thirty-two percent of the undergraduate population comprised transfer students, but 58% of students taking ASI 521 during that timeframe were classified as transfer students. In part, this is probably because the bulk of transfer students will be classified as juniors and seniors, which is the population of students allowed to take the course.

Students with intentions of applying to veterinary school are perceived to be more intellectually gifted and more academically motivated; in this group, PVS students (n = 97) had greater last GPA than non-PVS students (n = 165; data not shown; P < 0.0001). Therefore, those enrolled in a PVS option were expected to perform better in the class, but that was not the case. Pre-veterinary science students tended to receive greater pretest scores (Table 2; P = 0.069), but other students performed equally well on the posttest (Table 3; P = 0.60) and in final percentage earned (Table 1; P = 0.49). Enrollment in the College of Agriculture did not appear to affect final percentages earned (n = 250; Table 1; P = 0.65), but those students who were majoring in ASI (n = 222) performed better on the pretest (Table 2; P = 0.015) and posttest (Table 3; P = 0.020), and they received final percentages that averaged more than 4% greater (Table 1; P = 0.0097) than nonmajors (n = 40). This result probably reflects their preparedness based on previous courses taken, which speaks well of the ASI curriculum. Nonmajors usually choose to take ASI 521 from a long list of potential electives, so we might expect that nonmajors enrolled in the course would be interested in the content, but this did not translate into percentages equal to those earned by ASI majors. Differences in learning styles also may affect majors chosen and percentages earned. Those classified as field-independent (analytical) learners are more likely to major in ASI or some other agricultural field (Hoover and Marshall, 1998; Cano, 1999; Garton et al., 2002) and are more likely to achieve greater cumulative GPA than field-dependent (global) learners (Cano, 1999). Both instructors of ASI 521 during this period would probably be classified as field-independent learners, which was likely reflected in their teaching styles (Smith, 1982) and may have given an advantage to those students with the same learning style (Banner, 1989; Hoover and Marshall, 1998), but learning styles were not directly assessed in this cohort.

Those enrolled in the ESCP (n = 37), although they usually had taken a variety of equine courses, did not perform differently from those not enrolled in the ESCP in terms of percentages earned in ASI 521 (n = 225; Table 1; P = 0.89); however, when number of horse classes was used as a covariate, students who had taken more horse classes received greater scores on the posttest (Table 7; P = 0.010) and tended to show more improvement from pre- to posttest (Table 8; P = 0.053). These improved posttest scores may reflect the improved recollection of the students of material learned previously. In other words, rather than learning the material anew during ASI 521, perhaps they simply needed a refresher to remember material learned previously. When individual equine courses were considered, none were significant predictors of success in ASI 521 (data not shown; P ≥ 0.19). In part, this was because the number of students who had taken any individual equine course was usually small, which made drawing meaningful conclusions difficult. Those who took previous equine classes may have performed better in that same subject area in ASI 521, but they may not have performed any better in the class as a whole; for example, students who had taken ASI 678 Equine Nutrition might have earned most of the points available in the nutrition section of ASI 521, but they may not have performed any stronger than the rest of the class in the reproduction and exercise physiology sections. Their greater improvement from pre- to posttest, however, might reflect their increased interest in horses in general, as evidenced by their history of taking equine classes.

We expected those who were “good students” to do well in ASI 521, and this proved to be true. When GPA was evaluated in any form, it was a significant covariate in predicting the final percentage that students would earn in ASI 521 (Table 5; P < 0.0001); in fact, for every additional point increase in the past GPA of a student, he or she had, on average, a final percentage that was 13.75% greater. Nearly all measures of student GPA were also significantly related to scores earned on both the pre- (Table 6; P < 0.02) and posttest (Table 7; P < 0.0001). Interestingly, however, students who performed well on the ACT in high school did not necessarily achieve greater percentages in ASI 521 (Table 5; P = 0.51). Although ACT score appears to predict academic performance in introductory psychology (Marsh et al., 2008) and English (House and Prion, 1998) courses, standardized tests do not assess motivational skills necessary for success (Kern et al., 1998) and were not found to predict academic performance (Jesse and Ellersieck, 2009), retention of college of agriculture students (Garton et al., 2002), or graduation rates for animal science students (Jesse and Ellersieck, 2009). Examining the academic performance of first-year college students has shown that ACT score is only weakly correlated with academic success and that either high school (Garton et al., 2002) or first-semester college GPA (Moore, 2006) are much better predictors of collegiate academic success. This trend appears to hold true for upper-level students enrolled in ASI 521.

Students who performed well on the pretest (data not shown; P = 0.0002) or posttest (data not shown; P < 0.0001) earned greater final percentages in ASI 521. Those who scored well on the pretest most likely had a strong knowledge base before the class began, so they would be expected to do well on quizzes and exams related to the subject. Those who scored well on the posttest, in theory, had acquired (or already possessed) considerable knowledge in the subject area, so they would be expected to receive respectable percentages in the course. By examining the performances of students on the pretest, instructors were able to identify areas of weakness and thus tailor the course content to assist students in strengthening their knowledge in targeted subject areas. Because we found a discrepancy in final percentages earned and posttest scores, particularly when comparing 2008 with 2009 and 2010, we performed regressions to determine how predictive posttest scores were of final percentages each year. In 2008, the relationship was not significant [regression coefficient (b) = 0.09 ± 0.20; P = 0.68], but in 2009 (b = 0.84 ± 0.32; P = 0.011) and particularly in 2010 (b = 2.0 ± 0.28; P < 0.0001), posttest scores were highly predictive of final percentages earned. A comprehensive posttest, therefore, might be a reasonable proxy for final percentages in the course although this may not be the case if the course is team taught as ASI 521 was in 2008. This may be valuable information for instructors faced with students missing exams due to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances that prevent them from taking exams during the scheduled testing period. A comprehensive posttest might be a viable alternative for objectively determining final grades of students if a make-up exam is not possible.

In summary, strong students who have a record of receiving good grades tend to do well in an upper-level horse science course. Previous knowledge (as measured by the pretest) was also related to course success. Because those majoring in ASI performed better than nonmajors, general Animal Science coursework appears valuable to students taking ASI 521. Although previous horse coursework may be helpful, it is not necessary to perform well in this type of course. Students with large numbers of transfer credits tended to perform more poorly than those with fewer transfer credits. For instructors teaching upper level production courses, identifying the demographics of students enrolled may be useful in preparing to teach the class. If the course has a large number of transfer students, students with low GPA, or students with few preparatory courses, it likely will be beneficial to provide students with more background and basic information on each topic discussed. A comprehensive pretest can be used to identify areas of weaknesses in student backgrounds and can be useful in tailoring course content to areas in which students are weakest. Instructors should also be aware that dissimilar grading and teaching practices may have a significant impact on student grades, and therefore comparing final grades awarded by different instructors may not be an effective way to compare how much students learned. Finally, a comprehensive posttest may be a fair way to assess a final grade in a course if a student is unable to take an examination at the scheduled time. Past academic performance appears to be the best indicator of success in an upper-level equine production course, so any strategies aimed at improving student performance in such a course may be most effective if aimed at students with less desirable GPA or those with large numbers of transfer credits.

 

References

Footnotes


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