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What’s in a Prerequisite? A Mixed-Methods Approach to Identifying the Impact of a Prerequisite Course


Despite the ubiquity of prerequisites in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curricula, there has been minimal effort to assess their value in a data-driven manner. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, we examined the impact of prerequisites in the context of a microbiology lecture and lab course pairing. Through interviews and an online survey, students highlighted a number of positive attributes of prerequisites, including their role in knowledge acquisition, along with negative impacts, such as perhaps needlessly increasing time to degree and adding to the cost of education. We also identified a number of reasons why individuals do or do not enroll in prerequisite courses, many of which were not related to student learning. In our particular curriculum, students did not believe the microbiology lecture course impacted success in the lab, which agrees with our analysis of lab course performance using a previously established "familiarity" scale. These conclusions highlight the importance of soliciting and analyzing student feedback, and triangulating these data with quantitative performance metrics to assess the state of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curricula.

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