Contextualization of a course's content and concepts can improve student motivation, learning, and persistence. In this research eight faculty at four institutions implemented web-enabled, engagement and feedback pedagogy in an NSF TUES Type 2 project, JTF (Just-in-Time-Teaching with Interactive Frequent Formative Feedback). A key feature of the pedagogy is contextualization of content and concepts in introductory materials science courses. The theoretical framework used to structure the research is based on principles described in the book How People Learn. The book discusses how cognitive processes act to achieve learning through conceptual change based on three major principles, which include the following. For more effective learning, instructors need to: 1) identify students' prior knowledge to inform instruction; 2) engage students to promote conceptual change so they can construct deep knowledge organized in a conceptual framework; and 3) encourage metacognition to build habits of expert learners who define their learning goals and monitor their own progress. The research question is, "What is the role and impact of contextualization of content with respect to student attitude, achievement and persistence."
The use of contextualization of content is supported by the three principles. For the first principle, prior knowledge, it has been shown that instruction with contextualized content can activate learners' prior knowledge and promote more effective problem solving. One student said in a reflection, "Relating things to my daily life helped me to retain information better." For the second principle, promoting conceptual change, contextualization of content in interactive classroom engagement activities that motivates students with a concept's relevance can improve learning. One example was a video on precipitation of a supersaturated solution, which improved student learning in a concept quiz on solutions and solubility, from Hake gain of 33% without a video to 81% when a video was included. For the third principle, promoting metacognition, contextualization of content helps students reflect on their learning to bridge ideas from a familiar concrete context of an abstract concept so they can recognize their own personal relationship to these concepts. One student said in a reflection, "Helped me reflect on what I enjoyed and understood well from the lecture." The students' motivation for using contextualized content is well supported by a Spring 2016 semester beginning survey on Student Classroom Motivation Survey for using real world applications related to course content and concepts. The survey consisted of 24 statements based on Expectancy Value Theory on a scale of 1, strongly disagree, to 4, strongly agree. Students agreed or strongly agreed with almost all statements with the following values; 2.58 for expectancy (expectation to succeed); 3.16 for value (of contextualization); and 2.12 for (cost of using contextualization). These values support questions from another exit survey on Support of Student Learning Strategies from Spring 2014. For the strategy of using contextualized hands-on classroom activities, 91% said it supported or strongly supported their learning. For contextualized mini-lecture, 79% said it supported or strongly supported their learning. Finally, for the statement, "Material I learned in this class will be of value to me after graduation in career or graduate school," 86% agreed or strongly agreed. Overall, the key feature of contextualization of content in the web-enabled, engagement and feedback pedagogy in the JTF project played an important role in enhancing student attitude, achievement, and persistence.
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