During the Fall 2020 term, instructors in the SEP improved students’ overall experiences of their learning environments significantly. One aspect of the student experience, however, proved to be more challenging for instructors to move than others: student’s feelings of self-efficacy, or the extent to which an individual believes in their ability to do well on a specific task or in a specific domain (Bandura, 1997).
Understanding how to support students’ feelings of self-efficacy is important because when students have developed self-efficacy in a course, they show greater motivation and better performance (Bandura & Locke, 2003). Past research has demonstrated the critical role of self-efficacy for these key outcomes in STEM domains and for groups who have been traditionally viewed as being less interested, confident, or successful in STEM (e.g., women; Pajares, 2005). While self-efficacy is important to attend to, it can also feel like one of the more difficult aspects of the student experience to support. That is because students’ feelings of self-efficacy are often informed by multiple factors outside of instructors’ control. For example, when students participating in SEP courses are asked to explain the way that they respond to self-efficacy questions in our surveys, they commonly cite performance in past courses, mental health challenges, and responsibilities outside of school as factors that contribute significantly to their feelings of self-efficacy in their current courses. With so many outside factors impacting students’ feelings of self-efficacy, it’s reasonable to wonder – how much can instructors really do?
Past research, and feedback from students in SEP participating courses indicates that while there are outside factors contributing to students’ self-efficacy, self-efficacy can still be fostered and bolstered within the classroom (Corbett & Hill, 2015; Dennehy & Dasgupta, 2017; Hill et al., 2010). In this blog post, we share 5 instructional practices that can positively impact students’ feelings of self-efficacy in their current courses, along with resources that instructors can use to incorporate these approaches into their teaching.
Instructional practices that contribute to higher levels of self-efficacy in students’ current courses:
- Communicate care and belief in all students’ ability to succeed: One of the most common themes in student feedback about what positively impacts students’ feelings of self-efficacy is when they feel confident that their instructors believe that all students in the course are capable of learning and growing their abilities during the term. In other words, when students believe that their instructor has a growth mindset about students’ abilities, they are more likely to believe that they personally can be efficacious within that course. Instructors can take a number of steps to build growth mindset cultures in their courses, including using effective growth mindset messaging to establish expectations at the start of the term, emphasizing throughout the term that ability is developed over time by being responsive to to feedback and utilizing new strategies for learning, and by countering internalized fixed mindset beliefs at the end of the term.
- Provide clear course content, expectations, and feedback: students tell us that when instructors have clear expectations, consistent policies, and provide actionable and timely feedback, even fast paced and heavy workload courses can feel more manageable. The SEP Syllabus Review and Policy Review guides support instructors in reviewing their course structure and messaging with an eye toward ensuring that course policies and practices support student learning and growth. Utilizing wise feedback framing statements and providing students opportunities to reflect on their learning through the use of assessment wrappers further support self-efficacy by helping to ensure that critical feedback is delivered in a way that engenders trust and promotes continued engagement and learning.
- Provide and normalize the use of resources for learning: There are many resources available on college campuses to support students through academic challenges, but even when those resources are known, students can be reluctant to use them because of the stigma felt when reaching out to utilize them. Instructors can help normalize the use of resources as a standard part of succeeding in college by promoting resources to support all students’ success in the syllabus or course website, and during in class remarks throughout the term.
- Highlight self-relevance and connect content to students’ sense of purpose: Research shows that when students see their coursework as relevant to their lives and connected to their sense of purpose, it increases students’ motivation to persist through challenges, which also boosts feelings of self-efficacy. Instructors can encourage students to develop a sense of self-relevance in their coursework by providing opportunities for students to connect their own interests and goals to their coursework.
- Highlight the accomplishments of others: students are more likely to believe that they, themselves, can do things to improve when they see others (and those like themselves) succeed. One way to do this is by highlighting role models that share students’ backgrounds and goals in course lectures (for examples, see the Acknowledging Diverse Identities in the Ensuring Classroom Identity Safety resource), or sharing how you (or others) have found a place within your discipline by sharing a Belonging Story.
- Kathryn Boucher, PhD, Associate Professor, College of Applied Behavioral Sciences, University of Indianapolis, and Principal Investigator, College Transition Collaborative
- Krysti Ryan, PhD, Director of Research, College Transition Collaborative
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.
Bandura, A., & Locke, E. A. (2003). Negative self-efficacy and goal effects revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 87–99.
Corbett, C., & Hill, C. (2015). Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing. American Association of University Women. Washington, DC.
Dennehy, T. C., & Dasgupta, N. (2017). Female peer mentors early in college increase women’s positive academic experiences and retention in engineering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(23), 5964-5969.
Hill, C., Corbett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so Few?: Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Washington, D.C.
Pajares, F. (2005). Gender Differences in Mathematics Self-Efficacy Beliefs. In A. M. Gallagher & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), Gender differences in mathematics: An integrative psychological approach (pp. 294–315). New York: Cambridge University Press.