Thursday, September 15, 2011

Beyond IQ Series #12: Definition and implications of "academic vales"

Background comment regarding this series

Interest in social-emotional learning and resiliency training (click here and here for just two examples) in education has shown a recent uptick on activity. Given this activity, IQs Corner is starting a series to explain the previously articulated Model of Academic Competence and Motivation (MACM), which was a model ahead of it's time (IMHO). The imporance of non-cognitive (conative) characteristics in learning have been articulated since the days of Spearman, the father of the construct of general intelligence. Richard Snow's work on the concept of "aptitude," which integrates cognitive and conative individual difference variables, is the foundation of the Beyond IQ MACM. Non-cognitive (cognitive) characteristics of learners are important for learning and are more manipulable (more likely to be modified via intervention) than intelligence. Thus, the MACM components make sense as potential levers for improving school learning and pursuing more well rounded life-long learners. This material comes a larger set of materials on the web (click here).

Current MACM Series Installment

This 12th installment in the Beyond IQ series provides the definition and implications of the MACM domain of academic values. [All installments in this series (and other related posts and research) can be found by clicking here].


Academic Values: Definitions and Conceptual Background

A person’s desire, preference, or “wanting” for certain academic goals and outcomes.

An individuals education and achievement-related decisions are "made in the context of a complex social reality that presents individuals with a wide variety of choices, each with long- term and immediate consequences" (Eccles, 2005). One component of this multidimensional decision-making process is the personal value an individual associates with each possible option that is being considered.

Historically, the construct of values in the field of psychology has had both broad and narrow definitions (Wigfield & Eccles, 2002). In broader conceptualizations, theorists and researchers have attempted to outline the basic set of values necessary for all humans. Achievement (broadly defined) has been included in most comprehensive lists of essential human values (Schwartz, 1992). In the current context, achievement values play a central role in contemporary expectancy-value models of motivation (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Graham & Taylor, 2002; Wigfield & Eccles, 2002). Similar to academic goals, academic values influence the purposes for individuals to engage in different academic tasks and activities.

In simple terms, “motivation is determined by some combination of the perceived likelihood that a goal will be attained (the expectancy component) and how much that goal is desired or wanted (the value component)” (Graham & Taylor, 2002, p. 121). The value component of academic motivation is conceptualized, in turn, to consist of 4 components: attainment value, intrinsic value, utility value, and cost (Eccles, 2005). Collectively these value components contribute to a student’s desires and preferences for learning as reflected in the perceived desirability, importance, and usefulness of academic tasks (Graham & Taylor, 2002).

Academic values are important for school learning. As early as first grade, and increasing in strength with age, achievement task values predict both a student’s intention and decisions to engage in specific activities or domains (Wigfield & Eccles, 2002). In this document, academic values are defined as a student’s desire, preference, or “wanting” for certain academic goals and outcomes.
Personal (in this case academic) values are hypothesized to to be ordered in a subjective value hierarchy. As a result, decisions regarding possible options are conceptualized to be based on relative "within" comparisons in contrast to absolute mean-level considerations (Eccles, 2005).

Components of values in academic motivation (Eccles, 2005)

Attainment value is the personal importance an individual attaches to participating in or performing well on a given task. Attainment value is linked to motivation vis-a-vis the extent to which a task provides opportunities to fulfill a number of an individuals basic needs (viz., autonomy, social relatedness, and a sense of competence. It has been hypothesized that individuals develop social and personal identities that influence the value an individual attaches to various tasks and activities.

Intrinsic value is the feeling of immersion in, and being carried away by, a specific task or activity (e.g., "flow"). Intrinsic value is viewed as differing from intrinsic motivation, with the former dealing more with the origin of the decision to participate in an activity/task verses the source of the activities value. Eccles (2005) has suggested that intrinsic value may be a specific form of the experience labeled as "flow", which is typically characterized by: (1) the feeling of being totally immersed and carried away by an activity, (2) a merging of action and awareness, (3) selective and sustained focus of attention on a narrow field of stimuli/experiences, (4) a lack of self-consciousness, and (5) the feeling that the individual is actively in control of their actions and the environment. Furthermore, flow is hypothesized to only be possible when their is a "goodness-of-fit" between a person's feelings that their opportunities for action match their ability to master the challenges.

Utility value is a pragmatic component of motivation. Utility value refers to how a task or activity fits into a person's future plans.

Perceived value is the perception of different "cost" associated with in an activity or task. Frequently mentioned value costs include anxiety and fears of: (a) the consequences of success, (b) potential loss of self-worth, and (c) fear of failing. For example, high- achievement students who fear failure (failure avoidant) may avoid challenging tasks in order to minimize the probability of failure experiences

Academic Values: Implications

Although a complete understanding of why students come to value different academic activities and domains is illusive (Brophy, 1999), the available research (Eccles, 2005; Graham & Taylor, 2002; Wigfield, 1994; Wigfield and Eccles, 1992) suggests the following implications:

Academic values impact achievement outcomes via the choices students make to become engaged (or not engaged) in certain tasks or domains. Even students who are competent in a domain may choose not to engage in a learning activity if it has no personal value.

The development of positive competence beliefs, vis-à-vis success during learning activities, is important for the formation of positive values toward learning tasks and activities. That is, academic success increases the probability of the student placing greater value on the specific academic domain or class of activities.

Although longitudinal research on the development of academic values is limited, the available research suggests that educators and adults should be sensitive to the fact that even during the early elementary grades, students begin differentiating between academic competence beliefs and academic values. As children move through the grades, specific task values in the academic domain become more differentiated and crystallized.

Although the motivational constructs of academic goal orientation and academic values both focus on a student’s purpose for differential engagement in academic activities and domains, these two related constructs have been demonstrated to be empirically distinct. In general, the development and enhancement of intrinsic positive academic values increases the probability that a student will adopt a more adaptive mastery goal orientation. In contrast, students who, via their learning experiences, start to value tasks or activities for utilitarian reasons, tend to adopt the less desirable academic performance goal orientation.

Research suggests that the influence of academic values on learning may not be immediate. Values may exert their influence on achievement indirectly via student. When a student values a particular academic activity or domain, they tend to study more diligently and effectively. Furthermore, students who have “synchronized” academic values (i.e., positive intrinsic reasons for engaging across academic domains) demonstrate higher academic motivation than students with asynchronous academic values (i.e., high intrinsic interest in some domains coupled with only a utilitarian value in other domains).

Although the research literature is limited, academic values are hypothesized to play a role in adaptive self-regulated learning, particularly during the pre-engagement phase of planning and preliminary decision- making. The role of academic values in self- regulation is believed to be more significant for older versus younger students.

Classroom learning activities that are personally meaningful, more authentic, and tied to the student’s “real-world,” are suggested as contributing to the development of positive academic values toward such learning activities. Furthermore, depressed academic values have been associated with lowered performance-based environmental expectations and feedback.

Related to the construct of locus of control, students may place less value on effort and academic success if they perceive that external factors (outside of their personal control) are capable of affecting their educational or long-term occupational outcomes.

It is believed that an individuals subjective task values are not absolute, but rather, are hierarchical in nature. An individuals within-person value hierarchy is more important, with regard to potential activity engagement, than absolute normative value comparisons with others.

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