Choose Your Own Intervention: Using Choice to Enhance the Effectiveness of a Utility-Value Intervention

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Utility-value interventions, in which students are asked to make connections between course material and their lives, are useful for improving students’ academic outcomes in science courses. These interventions are thought to be successful in part because the intervention activities afford students autonomy while they complete them, but no research has explored directly whether interventions that include more support for autonomy are more effective. In this study, the degree of choice incorporated in a utility-value intervention was systematically varied in order to test this possibility. We assigned college biology students (n = 406) to a high-choice utility-value intervention condition (choose between two formats- essay or letter- for each of 3 writing assignments), one of two low-choice intervention conditions (complete either an essay and then a letter, or vice versa, and choose a format for the third assignment), or a control condition (summarize course material 3 times). Students in the high-choice condition reported significantly higher perceived utility value and interest for biology course content compared to students in the low-choice conditions. There were also significant, but small, indirect effects of choice on students’ final course grades and enrollment in the next course in the biology sequence, via perceived utility value and interest. Results suggest that social-psychological interventions which include more choices are likely to be more effective than those which include fewer choices.

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