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Considering student retention as a complex system: a possible way forward for enhancing student retention
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Physics Didactics. (Physics Education Research)
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Physics Didactics. (Physics Education Research, Fysikens didaktik)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6409-5182
2015 (English)In: European Journal of Engineering Education, ISSN 0304-3797, E-ISSN 1469-5898, Vol. 40, no 3, 235-255 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study uses multilayer minimum spanning tree analysis to develop a model for student retention from a complex system perspective, using data obtained from first-year engineering students at a large well-regarded institution in the European Union. The results show that the elements of the system of student retention are related to one another through a network of links and that some of these links were found to be strongly persistent across different scales (group sizes). The links were also seen to group together in different clusters of strongly related elements. Links between elements across a wide range of these clusters would have system-wide influence. It was found that there were no elements that are both persistent and have system-wide effects. This complex system view of student retention explains why actions to enhance student retention aimed at single elements in the system have had such limited impact.This study therefore points to the need for a more system-wide approach to enhancing student retention.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 40, no 3, 235-255 p.
Keyword [en]
higher education, student retention, complex systems, multilayer minimum spanning tree analysis
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
Physics with specialization in Physics Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-235499DOI: 10.1080/03043797.2014.941340ISI: 000355565100001OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-235499DiVA: diva2:760907
Available from: 2014-11-05 Created: 2014-11-05 Last updated: 2017-12-05Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Complexity Theory and Physics Education Research: The Case of Student Retention in Physics and Related Degree Programmes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Complexity Theory and Physics Education Research: The Case of Student Retention in Physics and Related Degree Programmes
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis explores the use of complexity theory in Physics Education Research as a way to examine the issue of student retention (a university’s ability to retain its students). University physics education is viewed through the concepts of nestedness and networked interactions. The work presented in this thesis covers two main aspects from a complexity theory perspective: (1) institutional action to enhance student retention; and, (2) the role of students’ in-course interaction networks. These aspects are used to reframe student retention from a complexity theory perspective, as well as to explore what implications this new perspective affords. The first aspect is addressed by conceptualizing student retention as an emergent phenomenon caused by both agent and component interaction within a complex system. A methodology is developed to illustrate a networked visualization of such a system using contemporary estimation methods. Identified limitations are discussed. To exemplify the use of simulations of complex systems, the networked system created is used to build a simulation of an “ideal” university system as well as a Virtual world for hypothesis-testing. The second aspect is divided into two sections: Firstly, an analysis of processes relating to how students’ in-course networks are created is undertaken. These networks are divided into two relevant components for student retention – the social and the academic. Analysis of these two components of the networks shows that the formation of the networks is not a result of random processes and is thus framed as a function of the core constructs of student retention research – the social and academic systems. Secondly, a case is made that students’ structural positions in the social and academic networks can be related to their grade achievement in the course.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2015. 185 p.
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Science and Technology, ISSN 1651-6214 ; 1273
Keyword
Physics Education Research, Complexity Theory, Student Retention
National Category
Didactics Other Physics Topics
Research subject
Physics with specialization in Physics Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-259413 (URN)978-91-554-9303-5 (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-10-02, Häggsalen (Å10132), Ångströmlaboratoriet, Uppsala, 09:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2015-09-11 Created: 2015-08-03 Last updated: 2015-10-01

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Forsman, JonasLinder, Cedric

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