The Impact of Online STEM Teaching and Learning During COVID-19 on Underrepresented Students’ Self-Efficacy and Motivation

Female students, students of color, first-generation students, and low income students face considerable barriers in access to STEM education, leading to their underrepresentation in STEM fields. Ensuring that these students develop strong self-efficacy and motivation in STEM during the college years is key to addressing the “leaky” STEM pipeline. To determine whether the rapid shift to online teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated or mitigated inequities for college-level STEM students, we examined correlations between demographic and sociocultural factors and students’ self-assessments on indicators of self-efficacy and motivation. Our findings suggest that students from underrepresented groups were differentially negatively impacted by the shift to online teaching and learning, particularly with regard to access to study spaces, the internet, and peers. However, we found that the loss of traditional laboratories was not particularly impactful on any students’ motivation or self-efficacy, regardless of a course’s levels of dependence on such labs, as students were generally more impacted by concerns about family members’ health and loss of social and structural supports than academic experiences. We discuss these results in light of psychosocial theory and suggest pedagogical and structural changes that can support more equitable outcomes in online and in-person college-level STEM education.