The Need for Cognition

Psychologists define the intrinsic motivation to engage in cognitive activities as the need for cognition, or NFC (Cacioppo & Petty, 1982; Cacioppo, Petty, Feinstein, & Jarvis, 1996; Cacioppo, Petty, & Kao, 1984). Students with a high NFC have greater intrinsic motivation to engage in learning activities and will therefore engage in activities such as completion of homework. Students with low NFC are less motivated to engage in learning activities; therefore, they will be more likely to take the path of least resistance, spending the minimal amount of effort on homework.

Some researchers have found a link between the need for cognition (NFC) and performance expectancy (Dickhauser & Reinhard, 2006, 2009, 2010). Students with a high NFC develop performance expectancies based on self-concept related to a specific task, while students with low NFC develop performance expectancies based on a more general self-concept. Therefore, there is an expected relationship between NFC and Performance Expectancy. Students with a low NFC tend to exaggerate their likely performance, which could negatively impact their study habits (they are more likely to think they have studied enough and quit studying before they are adequately prepared for a test). Additionally, students with low NFC are less likely to adapt their study habits in order to enhance their performance.

This research and my previous research on cognitive development raised the question in my mind “Can the Need for Cognition be improved?” If cognition is developed through experiences, can experiences also improve one’s intrinsic motivation to engage in cognitive activities? Do students have a low NFC because they have little experience or success with cognitive activities? I have been researching this topic and have not found any studies on this. I think it would be interesting study.


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Learning Theories – Building a Foundation For Your Course

Before we can begin building a course, we must first consider how we expect our students to learn the concepts covered in the course. Application of tested learning theories will help to strengthen the course. In this post, I will review two learning theories: (a) cognitivism and (b) subsumption theory. I will also provide examples of how these theories might be applied to building a course.

Cognitivism states that the learning process is internal, active, and creative, and that memory plays an important role in the learning process. What we learn is stored in our memory. According to cognitivism, new material is placed into memory (learned) through three processes: (a) attention, (b) encoding, and (c) retrieval. New information is received (attention) and processed (encoding) to make sense of it. Learning takes place when new information is connected to existing information so that it can be stored for later use (retrieval). The instructor should present new material in a way in which students can relate to it. This helps in the attention and encoding processes. When students receive new information that is foreign to them (they have no frame of reference), they tend to reject it; however, if the information is presented by comparing it to something they already understand, they will be able to pay attention and accept it. Giving students a frame of reference for new information allows them to be able to process (encode) the new information and to store it for later use (retrieval).

Somewhat related to cognitivism is the subsumption theory by Ausubel, who states that learning occurs through superordinate, representational, and combinatioral processes (subsumption). When new ideas are presented in a way that relates to ideas in one’s existing cognitive structure, the ideas can be processed. One’s cognitive structure is the sum of all ideas that have been presented, understood in a context, and combined in a way that makes sense and adds to the existing cognitive structure. The role of the instructor is to provide the organizers that allow students to add new ideas to their existing cognitive structure. This is done by presenting the most general ideas first, then providing the details, being sure to bring it back to the “big picture”. New material is presented by comparing it to the “big picture” or other ideas already presented and understood.

An example of the application of cognitivism and subsumption theories in an accounting course is to begin by discussing financial statements (the “big picture”). Because financial statements are likely to be a foreign concept to students, it is helpful to explain them in terms in which a student can relate. For example, it’s helpful to begin with the balance sheet, explaining what assets, liabilities, and equity are. Have students develop their own personal balance sheets, listing the assets they own, any debts they owe, and then to subtract the debts from the assets to calculate their equity (net worth). Then, give examples of “transactions” that would impact their balance sheets, such as purchase of a car with a loan. Have them record the changes to their balance sheets for each transaction. Next, move on to the income statement. Explain that their earnings from work are their revenues and that the costs of working (interest on car payments, gasoline, professional clothing, etc.) are their expenses. Have them calculate their “net income” from working.

As you begin developing a course, start with the “big picture”. This is the major course outcome. Think about it as the one big concept or skill set that you expect students to grasp by the end of the course. Develop the course to present the “big picture” first, then tie every new concept back to the “big picture”. This way of looping back to the major concept helps students to process new information in context. I like to “chunk” my courses into units or modules of related concepts. At the beginning of each unit, I discuss how the unit is related to the “big picture”. Then at the end of the unit, I provide some activity that helps students to tie the unit concepts back to the “big picture”. In my Introduction to Financial Accounting course, unit one covers the accounting cycle. I begin the unit by looking at the end result of the accounting cycle, the financial statements. We then spend time covering each of the steps in the accounting cycle. At the end of the each step, we discuss how it relates to or changes the financial statements. At the end of the unit, students complete the accounting cycle for a small business. We also discuss (either in class or in online discussion forums) the impact of the steps to the financial statements. Students compare the beginning financial statements with the ending financial statements and discuss what took place to make the changes.

Once the course is structured into units, you are ready to begin writing lesson plans. For each new concept you will introduce, consider what knowledge of the concept students are likely to have. For example, in an Intermediate Accounting course with a Principle of Accounting prerequisite, you might assume that students would have a basic understanding of financial accounting. You might also provide an overview of the principles course as a review just in case some students completed the prerequisite course several semesters (or years) ago. Introduce new concepts within the framework that students can recognize, either from previous courses or from a personal perspective. Begin with the “big picture”. For example, when I teach Cost Accounting, I begin by explaining that we will be examining reports that are not designed for external users. While the reports help to provide information for the financial statements designed for external users, the information is provided in a way that is useful to management. I also introduce the concept of unit cost the very first class by using an example to which students can relate. One example I use for traditional-aged college students is to have them plan a party. We list all the things we would purchase for a party and total the cost. Then we write down the expected number of people who will attend the party. We can then calculate the cost per attendee (unit cost). This introduces the new concept (unit cost) in a way that is familiar to them (a party), which allows them to accept the new information, process it, attach it to the example to remember it, and retrieve it later.

By developing the course backwards, starting with the outcome(s) and making sure to tie new concepts to the outcome(s), you will help your students to receive and process the new information. If you provide learning activities that require students to manipulate objects, numbers, etc., they are more likely to remember the concept later as they will be able to remember the activity. The more learning opportunities you can provide in a context familiar to students, the more successful your students will be.

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Course Design to Test the Model of Usage of an Online Homework Management System

I am currently studying the factors that motivate students to use an online homework management system. My courses are designed around the online homework management system. The first week of the course, students complete the modified Unified Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) survey, the Need for Cognition (NFC), and Computer Self-Efficacy survey. These provide the data regarding the factors proposed to motivate students to use the online homework management system. The UTAUT provides a measure of the student’s performance expectancy (if they think the OHM will help them to earn a better grade), effort expectancy (if they think the OHM will be easy to use), expectancy regarding facilitating conditions (if they think they will have the support they need to use the OHM), and the social influence (whether the instructor and their classmates think they should use the OHM). The NFC survey measures the student’s intrinsic motivation to think and learn. The Computer Self-Efficacy survey measures the student’s perception of their ability to use a new technology.

For each chapter, students first complete a pre-test. The pre-test contains questions covering each of the chapter’s objectives and measures the student’s understanding of the chapter concepts before they have been covered in class and any homework has been completed. Students earn minimal points for taking the pre-test, regardless of their score. The OHM builds an individualized study plan based on the score for the pre-test. For each objective for which the student did not show mastery, the OHM will build a study plan of questions, exercises and problems to build knowledge of that objective.

The students are instructed that they are to work in their individualized study plans until they feel that they have mastered the concepts. Students earn points for work in the study plan based on (a) the number of problems worked relative to the total problems in the study plan; (b) the amount of time spent in the study plan; and (c) proven mastery of the majority of the chapter objectives.

Once students feel they have mastered the chapter concepts, they move on to the post-test for the chapter. The post-test can be completed multiple times before the due date/time. Students are instructed that if they score below 85% on the post-test, they should go back to the study plan focusing on the objectives missed on the post-test.

The research questions are:
1. Do students with higher Performance Expectancy work a higher percentage of the study plan problems/spend more time working in the study plan?
2. Do students with lower Effort Expectancy work a higher percentage of the study plan problems/spend more time working in the study plan?
3. Do students with higher Facilitating Conditions expectancy work a higher percentage of the study plan problems/spend more time working in the study plan?
4. Do students with higher Social Influence perception work a higher percentage of the study plan problems/spend more time working in the study plan?
5. Do students with higher Need for Cognition work a higher percentage of the study plan problems/spend more time working in the study plan?
6. Do students with higher Computer Self-Efficacy work a higher percentage of the study plan problems/spend more time working in the study plan?
7. Are there significant relationships between any of the proposed motivitating factors?

I am currently collecting data and will report my findings soon. I would like to extend the study beyond my classes. I am currently studying accounting classes. It might be interesting to study different types of classes.

The next stage of my research will also include a study of the impact of self-efficacy regarding the class on the use of the OHM. For example, do students who think they can learn accounting use the OHM more than students who perceive they will not be able to learn the material? Additionally, I want to study the impact of the performance on previous units on future units. Does the performance on the first test motivate students to use the OHM more/less? Does actual performance change a student’s self-efficacy regarding the class? Are students able to accurately predict their grade on a test?

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A model to measure the effectiveness of online homework management systems

I have been working to develop a model that can be used to measure the effectiveness of online homework management systems. I started using MyAccountingLab by Pearson a few years ago. I love the features of the homework management system and am curious about how students use it and how effective it is in teaching accounting. Most students like it, some love it, while others don’t take advantage of it at all. This prompted my questioning mind to ponder “Why do the students who most need the homework manager use it the least?”

My research on the topic lead me to the Unified Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) model, which basically suggests that people who perceive that a new technology is useful (will help them do their job better), is easy to use, has support for users, and is accepted within their social circles will use it. This model has been tested extensively; research suggests it is a valid model. This model can be modified slightly to apply it to the classroom.

Additionally, I looked at Self-Efficacy, which is a person’s perception of his/her ability on a given task. A student with high self-efficacy for accounting, for example, has confidence in his/her ability to learn accounting. This is an important factor in the motivation to do the homework in a class. If a student believes he/she can master the content, he/she will be more motivated to attempt the homework. Additionally, because the homework manager might be a new technology to students, the student’s computer self-efficacy (perception of his/her ability to learn new technology) is also an important factor in his/her motivation to use the online homework manager.

I also researched the Need for Cognition theory. Need for Cognition (NFC) is one’s intrinsic motivation to learn and think. If a student is intrinsically motivated to learn new things (has a high NFC), he/she is more likely to engage in classroom activities such as homework. Additionally, I found research that suggests that if a student has low NFC, he/she will take the path of least resistence to completing the work in the class. Other researchers suggest that a student with a low NFC who perceives the online homework manager will make the homework easier, he/she will be more motivated to use it. I am suggesting, based on my research, that such students, if given the option, will elect to work only the easy problems in the OHM.

My model adds to the previous studies in that it also includes the opportunity to measure the effectiveness of the OHM in student performance in the class. Additionally, it could be used to measure the effects of performance on self-efficacy. For example, if students are asked to assess their performance on the first test and then asked again to rate their ability to learn accounting and succeed in the class, this new measure of self-efficacy could be used to then measure the student’s motivation to continue using the OHM. It could also be used to identify at-risk students in the class.

If you would like to see the model, please comment on this post with your email address and I will be happy to send it to you. While I am using the model to measure the effect of the OHM on performance in accounting courses, this model could also be used in other courses. It might be interesting to conduct a study of students in multiple types of courses to see if students use OHM differently in different types of courses.





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Are we identifying and assessing the right outcomes for the 21st century?

I attended the Pearsons Global Research Conference  in Perth last month, which brought together educators from around the globe to discuss the role of technology and assessment in system wide improvement. In the past we have viewed assessment as a tool but there is a shift in viewing assessment as a tool for learning at system, school and student level.  A 21st century curriculum requires a 21st century approach to assessment, that is, assessment that provides insight not only into student learning but informs teacher instruction.

In his paper ‘Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform‘,  Michael Fullan states that critical thinking and reasoning, problem solving, collaboration, communication, digital base learning and citizenship will become the ‘new average’ for the rest of the century.  The challenge for us is not only how we design assessments that enable students to apply and -reapply ‘the new average’ to tasks in order to understand…

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Using an Online Homework Manager

Accounting faculty know that completing the homework helps students learn accounting concepts and that students who exert more effort on homework assignments perform better on exams. Completion of homework helps to build students’ cognitive abilities, a skill that is highlighted in the Accounting Education Change Commission recommendations. In its report, the Commission suggests that motivated students are more likely to engage in activities which challenge and build their cognitive abilities. So what is the connection between motivation and the improvement of cognitive abilities? How can we help students to (a) be motivated to learn; and (b) improve their cognitive abilities? Can technology help us to do this?

Efforts to use technology to engage students and to help them learn content are increasing. While there are numerous technologies possible for students, I am currently working to develop a model to measure the impact of online homework management systems on student performance. Online homework management systems provide students the opportunity to practice working problems while receiving immediate feedback and online support via videos, problem demonstrations, and other multimedia aids. Instructors may structure the course so that students may resubmit homework problems, giving them the opportunity to keep trying until they get it right.

Because the use of online homework management systems is relatively new, little research has been done on its effectiveness. In a study of beginning accounting students, Peng (2009) examines how a student’s intrinsic motivation to learn the concepts (Need for Cognition), perception of the interactivity of the online homework manager, and computer efficacy impact the student’s usage of the homework management system. My work expands the work of Peng to build a model that includes additional theories and factors that may impact student use of the online homework management system. Additionally, the model developed will measure the impact of student usage of an online homework management system on student performance.

Basically, the model could study the following research questions:

  • What factors motivate students to use an online homework management system?
  • What factors contribute to a student’s satisfaction with an online homework management system?
  • How does a student’s intent to use the online homework management system impact his/her actual usage?
  • Does the use of an online homework management system affect student performance on exams?

Peng, J. (2009). Using an online homework system to submit accounting homework: Role of cognitive need, computer efficacy, and perception. Journal of Education for Business,  (May/June), pp. 263-268.

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Teaching Project Management/Working in Teams

I have been thinking quite a bit about this topic of holding student’s responsible for their own learning. I had a recent experience with an undergraduate class of seniors that is making me really think about revisions I need to make to the course for future semesters. My expectations of the students in the course seem reasonable to me. I expected them to take it upon themselves to learn the basics about the concepts presented in the course by reading the text, practicing the application of the concepts through the use of the online homework manager, and also to research the topics beyond what the textbook offered. I provided links to websites, YouTube videos, databases, etc.

The class was divided into teams of 4-5 students. Each team was to support one another, discuss the topics with each other to help them learn the concepts. Then, as a team, they were to complete some type of activity that applied the concepts in the unit. The team activities were case studies, a debate, drafting a memo with recommendations to solve a problem, etc. Additionally, the teams were not to complete the team activity until all members of the team had completed the individual learning activities in the unit (ex/pr in the online homework manager, discussions, etc.).

At the beginning of the class, the teams met and decided on a schedule of the completion of the coursework. This is where the problems began. While some students jumped into the discussion forums and set up their teams before the semester even began, others seemed paralyzed by this and took the entire first week to establish their teams. The late-comers found it very difficult to communicate and devise a schedule for completion of the work. The teams that struggled in the very beginning struggled throughout the course.

I know that these graduates will be expected to work in teams and to manage projects in the workplace; therefore, this seems to me a worthwhile thing to teach them. But how do I communicate the importance of this skill to students? How do I incorporate this into a class with better results? How do I motivate students to work in teams?

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