Students' perception of relevance of physics and mathematics in engineering majors
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© American Society for Engineering Education, 2015. In Chilean universities, a large proportion of engineering students abandon their studies within the first year. There is a variety of reasons for this phenomenon. It is also a fact that a high number of students fail their first year physics and/or math courses. We believe that the high dropout rate is related to failing physics and math courses (sometimes more than once); however, that relation has not been studied in Chile. In general, there is a consensus in the literature that these two phenomena (failing a course and dropping out) are caused in some degree by the limited preparation on these sciences that students receive in precollege education, as well as by the traditional teaching strategies (lecturing being a quite common teaching strategy in physics and math courses). However, this study takes a different approach. We believe that another strong reason for failing courses and dropping out of school might be related to students' perception of the relevance of physics and mathematics to their professional career, which is, in this case, engineering. In this study 232 students taking first and second year physics and math courses at a large private university in Chile participated. We used a Likert-scale instrument in which students chose from a "Totally agree" to "Totally disagree" scale of statements related to relevance of science and mathematics for future career and study. The results of this study discuss four aspects: 1) the students' perceptions of the relevance of physics and mathematics of scholar engineering and professional engineering practices, 2) the comparison of students' perceptions of the relevance of physics to that of mathematics, 3) gender differences on those perceptions and 4) the relation of those perceptions to their performance in the course. As conclusions, we present the consequences for that practice and some recommendations for instructors and course designers.