Journal of Nursing Education

The Use of Cognitive Style Mapping as a Predictor for Academic Success of First-Semester Diploma Nursing Students

Judith A Nortridge, MS, RN, CS; Virginia Mayeux, MS, RN; Sandy J Anderson, MA; Michael L Bell, EdD

Abstract

ABSTRACT

This study determined the relationship between the components of the cognitive map and the diploma nursing student's successful academic completion of the first semester. This ex post facto study applied the Modified Hill Cognitive Style Model (MHCSM) instrument; the final grade, the dependent variable, was intercorrelated with the instrument's 28 mapping elements. Data analysis indicated three positively correlated predictors: a preference for finding meaning from written words, for independent problem-solving, and for a logical deductive approach in decision-making. Four negatively correlated predictors included a preference for finding meaning from the spoken word, for finding meaning from sight, for problem-solving with peers, and for categorical reasoning. Implications applicable to nursing education are included.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

This study determined the relationship between the components of the cognitive map and the diploma nursing student's successful academic completion of the first semester. This ex post facto study applied the Modified Hill Cognitive Style Model (MHCSM) instrument; the final grade, the dependent variable, was intercorrelated with the instrument's 28 mapping elements. Data analysis indicated three positively correlated predictors: a preference for finding meaning from written words, for independent problem-solving, and for a logical deductive approach in decision-making. Four negatively correlated predictors included a preference for finding meaning from the spoken word, for finding meaning from sight, for problem-solving with peers, and for categorical reasoning. Implications applicable to nursing education are included.

Introduction

A subject of interest to nurse educators is student academic success. Because the attrition rate of nursing students is often highest during the first semester, it is relevant to identify the high-risk student at this time. Several studies have identified predictors of the successful student (Hayes, 1981; Horns, O'Sullivan, & Goodman, 1991; Kissinger & Munjas, 1982; Schwirian & Gortner, 1979; Wold & Worth, 1990). Because a student's cognitive learning style can be considered a predictor, the relationship between cognitive style preferences and academic success needs to be identified. Cranston and McCort (1985) acknowledged that when cognitive style information is obtained, faculty may better understand how to assist students in the process of learning; furthermore, student learning preferences imply the need for varied instruction.

This study utilized Newman's systems model (Newman, 1981) as the theoretical framework. Newman assumes that individuals have a normal line of defense (what they essentially have become over time), as well as a flexible line of defense to buffer intra-, inter-, and extrapersonal Stressors. This normal Une of defense would include an individual's learning preferences or cognitive style. Stressors frequently occur as students are expected to learn new concepts. Students may be exposed to a learning environment that may or may not be congruent with their cognitive style. Based on this premise, the purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between the components of the cognitive map and the diploma student's successful academic completion of the first semester.

Concept of Cognitive Style

Cognitive style describes individual preferences in acquiring meaning from the environment, organizing information, problem-solving, and relating to others (Ehrhardt, 1983; Even, 1982; Garity, 1985). Rosenbloom (1980) suggests an individual's cognitive style is a product of life experiences and family background. Cognitive style in itself is not "good* or "bad" and is predicated on preferences rather than ability. Therefore, cognitive style is value-free; there is no "best" learning style. However, different situations will call upon one learning preference or decision-making style to be preferable over another. A major premise of this study was that while cognitive style may not be "good" or "bad" in the sense of being a correlate of ability, certain cognitive styles might relate to greater academic achievement in specific settings or academic areas. Hence, the dependent variable used in this study was the final grade.

Models of cognitive style were developed by psychologists to represent abstractly observable behaviors. These models were later introduced into education in the 1970s (Fourier, 1984). Several cognitive style models have been described in the literature (Dunn, DeBeIIo, Brennan, Krimsky, & Murrain, 1981; Ehrhardt, 1983; Even, 1982; Partridge, 1983).

The notion of educators applying information concerning learning styles is not new. Despite this fact, few educators and counselors are knowledgeable about how the concepts of cognitive style impact on teaching/learning (Even, 1982; Garity, 1985; Ostrow, 1986). Although the nursing education literature contains studies discussing implementation of various cognitive style models (Cranston & McCort, 1985; Hodson, 1985; Ogden, 1980; Ostrow, 1986; Wells & Higgs, 1990), no evidence is offered of studies correlating students' cognitive style preferences and academic success in the first semester in a diploma program.

Methodology

Subjects

Subjects were first-semester nursing students admitted to St. John's School of Nursing, a diploma program affiliated with a large health center in the Midwest. The sample of 325 subjects entered during the spring semesters of 1986 through 1990. A grade of 77% or above determined success; 90.46% succeeded and 9.54% were unsuccessful. First-semester final theory grades ranged from 68% to 95% with a mean of 83.57%. Minimum entering GPA for subjects was 2.5. Subjects ranged in age from 19 to 47 years with a median age of 28. There were 33 male subjects. The comparatively large sample (N =325) was perceived to be a strong point of the study.

Instrument

The Modified Hill Cognitive Style Model (MHCSM) instrument drawn from the Modified Hill Model (Hill, 1981; Hill & Nuney, 1971), was designed for educational use. The MHCSM was developed and researched by Ehrhardt and associates at Mountain View College (Ehrhardt, 1981, 1983). Rosenbloom (1980) and Cranston and McCort (1985) agree the Hill model has obvious implications for nursing education and offers ease of administration.

The MHCSM instrument involves a self-assessment inventory generated from 200 statements. A "map" results after assessing relative preferences in 28 areas or "elements." These elements are divided into four major categories: four theoretical symbols (i.e., finding meaning through words you hear or from words you see or read); 16 qualitative symbols (five sensory, i.e., perceiving meaning through the sense of smell, taste, or touch, or by use of body language); three cultural determinants (i.e., degree of influence by associates, family, or church); and five modalities of inference (i.e., reasoning by looking at difference or similarities in concepts or preferring a clear set of rules) (Ehrhardt, 1983). Scores of 28 to 40 reflect major preferences, scores of 16 to 26 reflect minor preferences, and scores of 14 or less represent negligible preferences. Scores mirror how respondents rated each statement relative to a perceived degree of preference.

Procedure

This ex post facto study collected data from the MHCSM instrument and the records of students' first-semester final theory grades. Data were collected from the spring semesters of 1986 through 1990. All subjects voluntarily completed the mapping instrument two weeks into the semester. Faculty knowledgeable in mapping concepts provided both verbal and written instructions to participants. Length of time to complete the instrument was approximately 30 minutes. A week later, subjects received a verbal and written interpretation of mapping elements by the faculty. Students received a copy of their individual map and a second copy was permanently filed.

Limitations of the study

To the extent that the subjects of this study are representative of typical students in a diploma nursing program, the following limitations appear warranted:

* No attempt was made to determine if some other variable was predictive (i.e., GPA, English, or chemistry grades).

* Data from mapping responses were limited to honesty of reporting.

* No control was exerted over the background and life experiences of the subjects.

* No control was exerted over current variables such as work, family, and personal Stressors that may have influenced theory grades.

Data Analysis/Results

The Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) was used to analyze all data. Intercorrelation between the 28 elements of the MHCSM and the students' final grades was computed. Percentages were calculated from 100%. Among these correlations, seven of them were greater than or equal to .10 (positive or negative) as shown in Table 1. Three of the seven were positively correlated: T(VL) (a preference for finding meaning from written words), I (a preference for independent problem-solving), and K (a preference for a logical deductive approach in decision-making). Four negatively correlated predictors were T(AL) (a preference for finding meaning from the spoken word), Q(V) (a preference for finding meaning from sight), A (a preference for problem-solving with peers), and M (a preference for categorical reasoning). A multiple regression equation using these seven predictors and a subsequent multiple R and R2 was computed. The results are shown in Table 2. Table 3 depicts mean percent of final grades and the seven predictors.

Table

TABLE 1Intercorrelation Between Final Grade and Selected Elements Of MHCSM

TABLE 1

Intercorrelation Between Final Grade and Selected Elements Of MHCSM

The seven predictors from the MHCSM accounted for 13.7% of the variance in predicting final grades in the regression equation. Additional regression models were not computed due to the small value of R2.

In Table 1, the greatest correlation (-.512) was found between T(VL) and T(AL). The higher the visual scores, the less significant were the auditory preferences. Another high correlation was between I and A ( - .484). This obvious negative correlation represents independence in evaluating information with minimal influence by associates. The smallest correlation ( - .007) was found between A and K. The influence of one's associates may have little relationship to reason logically.

Table 2 presents the seven variables combined to produce an R2 of .137. The 13.7% of the variance accounted for by the cognitive learning style variables does not pertain to the students' innate abilities, interests, or diligence. Rather, the cognitive learning styles pertain to the ways in which individuals receive and process information. Hence, if 13.7% of student achievement (final grades) is related to various cognitive learning style variables, and, if these variables can be considered during the instructional process, perhaps it is incumbent upon faculty to do so.

Table 3 provides information relating to mean and standard deviation of the final grade and the seven independent variables. It can be noted that, overall, this group did well with an average mean of 83.57%.

Implications

The data relating to the seven variables predicting academic success yielded three positive correlations, T(VL), I, and K. Several implications were found significant for nurse educators.

First, positive correlation for T(VL) suggests that faculty already enhance critical material in adequate written form. Since most nursing material comes as written information, it may favor the visual learner. These learners may be partial to sorting out information in the text and not feel the necessity to attend lecture. They may also want to share transcribed notes in a study session.

A student displaying a minor preference in T(VL) may benefit from oral presentations, i.e., taped lecture. Because the novice nursing student must comprehend a volume of new subject material, faculty need to consider various options for presentation of information. A further suggestion for success includes study groups to encourage auditory sessions allowing students to listen to others talk about the subject. These students may benefit from recording themselves reading the notes, and later studying by this tape.

Secondly, the positive correlation of I infers that the academically successful nursing student with a high I score prefers to learn and problem-solve independently. This student may enjoy self-pacing learning modules, while the minor I student may incur frustration with this method of learning. The individual with a minor I score may require faculty assistance in gaining confidence when working independently, especially if a new concept is introduced.

Finally, the positive correlation of K indicates a student's preference for deductive thinking in decisionmaking. By taking what is known, this learner employs logic when examining a premise and coming to a conclusion. This involves critical-thinking skills. It is not surprising that this element was found to correlate with the successful student.

When K scores fall below the mean, students may benefit from faculty role models of critical-thinking and problemsolving skills. Malek (1986), Klaasens (1988), and White, Beardslee, Peters, and Supples (1990), discuss strategies to enhance this skill development in student nurses.

Table

TABLE 2Multiple Regression Predicting Final Grade From Seven Selected Elements

TABLE 2

Multiple Regression Predicting Final Grade From Seven Selected Elements

The important contribution of this study was to identify cognitive map predictors that correlated with a student's academic success in the first semester. As nurse educators seek means to identify the high-risk student and to increase retention, cognitive style mapping may be one way to attain this goal. Although information from the map is not foolproof) it can alert faculty to the need for early interventions.

Conclusions

Cognitive style information of students is relevant to nurse educators. It is essential that faculty recognize that there is not a "best" cognitive style. In this regard, faculty should be cautioned against "branding" or "pigeon-holing" a student who does not fit the predicted successful student map. However, when examining a student's map, faculty should be alerted if student scores fall below the mean in the positive correlated mapping predictors. Faculty should present alternative teaching styles to help students enhance their visual learning (T[VL]), independence (I), and logical reasoning (K). The degree of variance and the number of variables above or below the mean of the seven predictors should be considered. Students who achieve academic success while lacking preferences in the identified three positive correlations (T[VL], I, and K), may have compensated by using various other factors to adapt or were more motivated.

If we can predict student success by knowledge of learning preferences, faculty then require this information for early intervention. Thus, if Cranston and McCort (1985) are correct, it is desirable that entering students are mapped to better capitalize on student learning strengths.

The nurse educator's cognitive style may influence selection of teaching strategies (Wells & Higgs, 1990). Likewise, a student's cognitive styie may affect their attitudes toward these teaching strategies, thus influencing learning. Dux (1989) asserts that "the style of the learner is only part of the story - another important part is the style of the teacher and the impact this has upon the learner's performance" (p. 186). Arndt and Underwood (1990) point out that learning is a cyclical adventure involving feeling, perceiving, and behaving. It seems apparent that the teaching/learning environment would have an impact on these factors.

Table

TABLE 3Mean and Standard Deviation of Final Grade Percent and the Seven Independent Variables

TABLE 3

Mean and Standard Deviation of Final Grade Percent and the Seven Independent Variables

A student's cognitive map provides direction when counseling students and can be applied to build a personalized program of instruction. Nurse educators are aware that students have difficulty learning for a variety of reasons. Cognitive style may be just another explanation. Thus, it is imperative for nurse educators to explore all avenues of a student's problem before attaching a label.

Finally, faculty must be willing to commit to utilizing the concepts of cognitive style. Once an educational setting decides to apply these concepts, the following four precepts must be accepted:

* Individuals prefer to learn differently.

* It is possible to determine (independently) how individuals prefer to learn.

* It is the responsibility of institutions and/or individuals who provide learning environments to consider the cognitive style of the learner.

* It is the student's responsibility to use provided cognitive style information to structure his or her learning environment (Ehrhardt, 1983).

Further study is recommended including a replication of the study to include different nursing programs, and an investigation to determine the relationship between cognitive styles and preferences in clinical specialties.

References

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TABLE 1

Intercorrelation Between Final Grade and Selected Elements Of MHCSM

TABLE 2

Multiple Regression Predicting Final Grade From Seven Selected Elements

TABLE 3

Mean and Standard Deviation of Final Grade Percent and the Seven Independent Variables

10.3928/0148-4834-19921001-06

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