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Abstract

Research on factors that shape recruitment and retention in undergraduate science majors currently is highly fragmented and in need of an integrative research framework. Such a framework should incorporate analyses of the various levels of organization that characterize academic communities (i.e., the broad institutional level, the departmental level, and the student level), and should also provide ways to study the interactions occurring within and between these structural levels. We propose that academic communities are analogous to ecosystems, and that the research paradigms of modern community ecology can provide the necessary framework, as well as new and innovative approaches to a very complex area. This article also presents the results of a pilot study that demonstrates the promise of this approach at the student level. We administered a questionnaire based on expectancy-value theory to undergraduates enrolled in introductory biology courses. Itself an integrative approach, expectancy-value theory views achievement-related behavior as a joint function of the person's expectancy of success in the behavior and the subjective value placed on such success. Our results indicated: (a) significant gender differences in the underlying factor structures of expectations and values related to the discipline of biology, (b) expectancy-value factors significantly distinguished biology majors from nonmajors, and (c) expectancy-value factors significantly predicted students' intent to enroll in future biology courses. We explore the expectancy-value framework as an operationally integrative framework in our ecological model for studying academic communities, especially in the context of assessing the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the sciences. Future research directions as well as practical implications are also discussed.