Friday, September 25, 2009

Stages of Student Development

Those of you still struggling with the blogging might take some solace from your professor having writer's block in his day job. I committed to writing a column for the periodical called Educause Quarterly and the next one is supposed to be about how to pare back IT services in light of budget cuts. Today was to be my day devoted to producing this 1500 word masterpiece. But instead I've procrastinated all day and have produced nothing I'm proud of on this score. Mostly, I've puttered around with other diversions.

One thing I found was a column from the Chronicle of Higher Education called Freshman Comp Tantrums. (You likely need to be on campus for this link to work.) It doesn't describe our class, but there are some parallels. Perhaps more interesting that the column itself is the suggestion by the first commenter that the issues being described have been documented by William Perry, about 40 years ago, in his Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years. I wonder if any of you have come across that work in your studies. I was so intrigued by this that I got the book from the Library and started reading it. In this recent reflection one member of the class talks about the psychological notion called schema. Perry uses that term and suggests that students as they develop go from one schema to the next, in a predictable pattern of development.

I hadn't heard of Perry before, but I heard a similar though not identical argument made by Marcia Baxter Magolda, who was here a couple of years ago to keynote the Campus' Active Learning Retreat. This short paper by one of her former students explains the developmental stages in her model.

If you act this developmental approach to college student learning and then you posit that different students will reach the developmental milestones at different times (both Perry and Baxter Magolda agree on this) then students will react differently to how a course is taught by how the course appears to them vis-a-vis their own development.

To this I'll add one more wrinkle about how things compare today versus how they were when Perry did his work. Today students are exposed to a huge amount of information that they wouldn't have been able to access in Perry's time and I believe more of the day (at least at the high school level) has been programmed with activities of some sort. (Not knowing your full schedules you seem much more involved with programmed activities than I was when I was in college.) In that sense life was more leisurely when Perry was writing and while students had less exposure to new ideas, I believe they had more exposure to reasoned argument. It is witnessing the latter that helps students move through these developmental stages to be able to accommodate in their schema that neither view in the argument seems totally right nor totally wrong.

I'm not sure how being aware of Perry and Baxter Magolda will impact the course from here on out. But maybe getting this out of my system will help me focus on the EQ piece I must write.

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