‘Experience Congruence’ as a Criterion for Generalizability?

  • Michelle Herridge Missouri State University
  • Gautam Bhattacharyya Missouri State University
Keywords: quantitative data, surveys, generalizability, external validity, beliefs, introductory/first-year chemistry, General Chemistry


When evaluating the applicability of published SoTL and/or educational research results faculty often focus on the differences in demographic characteristics between the students in their academic context and those of the students where the data were collected. This could be problematic since readers might choose to dismiss a particular innovation if they perceive the discrepancies to be significant even though this reliance on demographics to identify informative pedagogical research may not always be justified. We report the results of survey of 1326 students from three introductory-level, first-year chemistry courses (a total of ten sections with ten different instructors) at two universities with significantly different student populations. The survey asked students to choose the hardest and easiest from five groups of topics typically taught in first-year chemistry courses. Remarkably, when separated by lecture section, overlaid frequency plots of students’ choices of hardest topic revealed a singular pattern. The trend transcended universities, courses, textbooks, instructors, and demographics. The only common parameter between the samples was the chemistry topics they learned. The correspondence in content, as such, constituted an “experience congruence”. Based on these data, we propose that readers might consider experience congruence – in lieu of sample or population characteristics – as a criterion for judging the generalizability of educational data.

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