Examining Student Agency in an Active-Learning Business Calculus Course
Higgins, Abigail Lee
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This study explored student agency in an active-learning business calculus course. The lecture-style instructional practices typically used in this course at this institution allow few opportunities for students to interact with their peers, interface with the instructor one-on-one, or do mathematics during class time. Additionally, this course has focused heavily on procedural content. As an instructor of this course, I was aware that students perceived the content to be irrelevant and tended to be passive in class. I wondered how students were responding to these structural elements that they had identified, namely irrelevant content and lack of opportunity to be active in class. This led me to the concept of agency. I re-designed this course with the intention of emphasizing real-life applications and creating an environment that encouraged students to be active. I implemented a pilot version of this course during Summer 2016 and carried out the final version during Fall 2016. During my main project in Fall 2016, I selected two participants, Christina and Jacob, as cases within my course. From interviews with these participants and from classroom data, I identified their goals and associated structural elements. These goals and structural elements were used to describe how Christina and Jacob responded to structure in my course, in other words, how they achieved agency in my course. Major themes from this project include the value of mathematics problems contextualized in reallife and relatable situations, the ways in which students use interactions during class time to facilitate their course goals, and the importance of providing opportunities for students to do mathematics during class time. This project contributes to the existing literature on mathematics education at the post-secondary level, in particular the mathematics education of students majoring in non-STEM fields, and specifically the mathematics education of students majoring in business disciplines. Considering the popularity of business degrees in the United States, the lack of mathematics education research concerning this student demographic is concerning. This study aims to expose this gap and encourage further research in these areas.