High School to STEM BSc degrees: from a steep to a smooth transition

Posted by Vincenzo Russo, Natasa Brouwer, Miguel, Oreste Tarallo, on Oct. 14, 2021, 6:48 p.m.

Martino Di Serio, Alessio Petrone, Vincenzo Russo, Oreste Tarallo, Italo Testa
University of Naples Federico II, Italy

Challenge and goal

It is a common experience that BSc freshmen can experience difficulties when enrolling from high school. BSc instructors normally pretend that students' background knowledge about basic concepts of STEM disciplines is already well consolidated and clear. Thus, university instructors often overlook students’ lack of knowledge and competencies. The consequence is that BSc freshmen are not able to effectively engage with the courses, quickly losing their motivation, leading to a consequent increase of the graduation time and dropout.

Topic of the user case

Lack of knowledge, lack of motivation, curriculum organization.

Local context (specific)

Once the students graduate from high school, some of them can decide to prosecute their studies by enrolling in a BSc level course. At the University of Naples Federico II students who enroll at the BSc courses in Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry normally come from either a scientific high school or from a vocational school. It is a common experience of the first year lecturers (e.d. Maths, General Chemistry, General Physics) that even  students with high school grades can show a lack of knowledge in specific topics. Moreover, due to the diversity  of students' background knowledge , teachers have to cope with a very broad distribution of competences and study methods changing from year to year.

The aim of this user case is to increase the first year BSc lecturers' awareness of students: (i) prior educational diversity; (ii) lack of knowledge; (iii) lack of effective study methods.

Local educational scope

BSc in Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry.

Pre-knowledge / Background of the participating local teaching staff

No specific pedagogical courses are required for the university teachers in Naples. Recently a new project aimed at improving young researchers' knowledge of pedagogical strategies was launched, the FEDERICO Project, focused on general pedagogy, thus non STEM oriented.

Local CPD goals

Increase the awareness of first year BSc lecturers in Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry of possible reasons underlying:

  1. prior educational heterogeneity of freshmen
  2. the lack of effective learning strategies 

As a final output of this activity, a list of recommendations will be formulated and discussed with the BSc courses coordinators and the Head of the Department.

Needs defined in STEM-CPD Roadmap

1 frame the course in the context of the study programme
6 cope with heterogeneous pre-knowledge of students
4 engage students and arouse interest for the discipline in the class
5 be interested in their students' progress.
6 use students evaluations and the feedback of students to improve courses.
13 analyse the effect of teaching and introduce changes in an evidence based way.
8 discuss teaching with their colleagues.
1 reading books / journal articles on teaching and learning in HE.
2 attending presentations about teaching approaches.
5 following online courses / MOOC about teaching and learning.

CPD activities at the local university

  1. Round tables with BSc coordinators and 1st year lecturers
  2. Meeting with high schools teachers
  3. Definition of the recommendation list

Teaching and learning materials

Online forms to be submitted to: (i) high school teachers; (ii) 1st year BSc lecturers; (iii) 1st year students. Selection of research articles on the topics of the user case. Recommendation list to be submitted to BSc coordinators and the Head of the Department.

Sustainable implementation

The activity should be repeated periodically (e.g. every 5 years) to ensure a strict connection between high school and BSc courses in Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry due to the dynamic tailoring of the first year courses.

Activity sequence

Before the first meeting with instructors, data about students’ background knowledge and learning strategies are collected and analyzed. Results are used to discuss whether:

i)  prior educational diversity of freshmen is related to typical misconceptions and/or depends on the course of high school attended (humanities stream, scientific, vocational). Moreover, an analysis of students’ socio-economic background can further improve teams’ awareness of possible reasons underlying students’ diversity

ii) students’ learning strategies are related to motivation and/or beliefs about how scientific knowledge is built

During the meetings, the team discusses the collected evidence and develops a series of activities in order to address the identified issues. For instance, the team will develop a series of teaching-learning sequences to address the most common misconceptions. Similarly, pedagogical  activities aimed at improving students’ awareness of their own learning strategies  will be designed.


Expected impact of the CPD User Case

A revision of the study curriculum in both Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry BSc courses could be envisaged, taking into consideration the recommendation list developed within this user case. Possible actions could be: (i) establishment of tutoring activities; (ii) on-line courses on specific topics to fill the lack of knowledge; (iii) PCK courses for lecturers; (iv) increase of students’ metacognition.

Plans for eventual continuation of the CPD within the same topic


Constructive alignment, Engagement and motivation, facilitation discipline specific learning (type P1-1, P1-3b)

This CPD scenario describes a User case in which lecturers develop their competence in sound course design and how to engage and motivate students and how to facilitate discipline specific thinking and develop attitudes in supporting student development and enabling students’ well-being in a learning process and inclusivity and practicing teaching and learning in an evidence informed way and knowledge sharing.
The approximate duration of a User case that follows this scenario is several months.
In this CPD scenario the participants are using a very short open online course, a micro mooc (μmooc) and professionalize in a close connection to their own teaching practice (at their workplace) and meet in person on location with the training staff and with other participants.

Learning environment
Several months

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