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Dissertation: Executive Summary
Concept Maps versus Embedded Questions:
Assessing Cognitive Change and Learning Styles in Interior Design Students

Dissertation excerpts: Abstract, ch. 4 & 5

Table of Contents

Lack of effective instructional communication between university students and faculty exists based on incongruence between student learning and faculty teaching styles (Sims & Sims, 1995). Incongruity potentially results in inefficient cognitive processing, reduces amount of information students retain, and potentially lowers students' motivation (Gredler, 1997). One possible solution is identification of learning strategies capable of bridging this gap by implementing different strategies among students and faculty with divergent styles.

This study's purposes were to 1) gather baseline efficacy information for concept maps and embedded questions, 2) determine if technique efficacy differs based on learning style, and 3) obtain student opinions of technique effectiveness preparatory to future perception instrument validation efforts. The population of interest was collegiate interior design students; the sample consisted of 26 students enrolled in a beginning interior design course at a regional midwestern university.

Learning styles were determined using the Keirsey Temperament Sorter which has acceptable reliability and validity correlations with the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator (Berens, 1996). Measures of technique efficacy were students' chapter quiz scores based on items taken from the textbook's test bank, assuring reliability and high content validity. Opinions of technique effectiveness were collected by a researcher designed survey, unvalidated at the time of the study.

Students completed a background survey and the Keirsey Sorter on-line, sequentially completed chapter study materials while reading each chapter, then took each chapter quiz. The student perception survey was completed after finishing the last quiz; results were collected electronically and by mail.

Student opinions of strategy effectiveness were reported using frequencies. Responses indicate strategy effectiveness was dependent on the a) type of map used and b) nature of the learning task. Directional dependent t-tests of chapter quiz scores assessed differences in strategy efficacy. Results at a = .05 show 1) no significant differences among learning strategy efficacy on chapter quiz scores and 2) concept map usage showed less achievement than embedded questions. Student preferences for strategy based on learning style were assessed by a contingency coefficient. Results show no preferences for a particular learning strategy based on learning style. All strategies appear equally effective. Appendixes include original instruments.

Statement of the Problem

It is evident that no easy solution exists to satisfy all learning needs. However, for optimizing learning, instructors need to teach using all four of Kolb's experiential learning styles, keeping in mind the left/right brain issues as well (Sims & Sims, 1995). While it is difficult for faculty members to accommodate every student's preferred cognitive approach, strategies exist which allow a bridge to be forged between divergent approaches. This particularly includes identifying and making students aware of their dominant learning style, and the style's strengths and weaknesses (Sims & Sims, 1995). Secondly, by using all four styles of Kolb's experiential learning model while teaching, students can be expected to experience congruency to some extent and should develop their less dominant styles, helping to further close the gap. Thirdly, strategies such as the use of a concept map are beneficial, especially when students are experiencing a lack of congruency (Sims & Sims, 1995). This study, using a sample taken from the population of college interior design students, therefore addressed the question "Do concept maps (as opposed to embedded adjunct questions) differentially affect cognitive learning outcomes for different learning styles?"

Specific primary objectives of the study were to:

  1. develop an Internet based, interactive prototype set of instructional materials for teaching interior design content to supplement traditional lecture/textbook presentation methods. The material covered three related textbook chapters. One chapter utilized researcher generated concept maps, the second required a student generated concept map, while a third employed embedded questions;

  2. establish baseline data on the effectiveness (based on student performance on chapter assessment instruments) of concept mapping and embedded questions as a supplement to lecture/discussion instructional formats for increasing transfer among students with different learning style preferences for the population of interior design students defined in this study;

  3. correlate temperament styles of students based on Keirsey Sorter type styles with preferred cognitive learning strategy; if there is no or low correlation, it may indicate matching learning activities to learning style is not critical but rather a convenience for learners;

  4. create an instrument to measure perceptions of concept mapping and adjunct/embedded question efficacy and gather preliminary data to begin Rasch measurement validation of the instrument for future use; and

  5. begin prescriptive research that explores the efficacy of concept mapping as a solution for the problem of incongruence between instructor/textbook delivery style and students' learning styles.

Research Questions Based on the broad objectives listed above in the statement of the research problem, the following specific research questions were addressed by this study:

  1. Are concept maps an effective format which aid in organizing and retrieving information for improved learning?

  2. Do materials incorporating concept maps versus those that use embedded questions result in greater achievement?

  3. Are there any preference patterns for a given learning strategy based on personality/temperament style?

Discussion of communication theory, internal and external conditions of instruction, learning styles, conceptmapping.

A quasi-experimental design was used to examine the differences in the ability of three learning strategies to improve student learning. This study was limited to those students enrolled in the general introductory interior design course HI 104: Housing & Interior Design (lecture based) at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, during the Spring 2000 academic semester. Twenty-six students were enrolled in this course. Students in this course included interior design majors, interior design minors, and non-majors/minors taking the course as an elective. The primary purpose of the course is to provide an overview of the activities, terminology and major concepts involved in the profession.

Meausures, Materials & Procedures used included the following:

Research Hypotheses:

Ha1: Textbook chapters incorporating concept maps versus those that use embedded questions result in greater achievement among interior design students.

Ha2: Textbook chapters incorporating student generated concept maps versus those that use researcher generated concept maps or embedded questions result in greater achievement among interior design students.

Ha3: There is a relationship between personality styles based on the Myers-Briggs/Keirsey Indicator and preferred learning strategy as measured by the Keirsey Temperament Sorter.

Discussion of students' preferred learning styles, computer usage comfort and general design background.

Hypothesis 1. A planned Helmert contrast was conducted comparing the mean quiz score for the embedded question chapter (chapter 4) to the average of the mean scores of the two concept mapping chapters (chapters 5 and 6). Results indicate F(1,12) = 2.02, MS = 52.07, p>.05. The observed power was 26.0% while the probability of a type II error was 74.0%.

Hypothesis 2. A planned Helmert contrast was conducted comparing the mean quiz score for the student generated map chapter (chapter 6) to the average of the mean scores of the two other chapters (chapters 4 and 5). Results indicate F(1,12) = 4.00, MS = 144.64, p>.05. The observed power was 45.7% while the probability of a type II error was 54.3%.

Hypothesis 3. A 3 x 3 Chi-square analysis conducted on the variables of chapter strategy and learning temperament revealed ?2 = 2.971 (4, n=13), p>.05. All cells had fewer than 5 expected counts per cell, indicating results are not statistically valid and similar adjacent cells should be collapsed for further analysis (George & Mallery, 2000). A final 2 x 2 Chi-square based on temperament levels of sensing and intuitive versus strategies of questions and mapping was conducted. Results revealed ?2 = .124 (1, n=13), p>.05. The Contingency Coefficient, a measure of association between nominal level data uses the Chi-square value in calculations (George & Mallery, 2000). The associated Contingency Coefficient (C) for ?2 = .124 was C=.097. All cells had fewer than five expected counts per cell, indicating results are not statistically valid (George & Mallery, 2000).

Implications for Instruction

Although the findings of this study may not be statistically significant, indicating there is no practical reason to choose one technique over another, comments made by participants as well as previous research results led the researcher to believe further study research utilizing these techniques is warranted. In keeping with the results from previous studies on concept mapping and adjunct questions and learning style research in general (Saracho, 1998), it would appear the collegiate educator should keep the following issues in mind:

  1. There is no clear preference for having students create their own maps.

  2. Instructors should assess their students' learning temperament to determine if they are more active/"hands-on" oriented or if they are more theoretical/abstract oriented. This is easily accomplished using the on-line Keirsey II Temperament Sorter Instrument.

  3. Based on the results of the learning temperaments encountered, the instructor should provide learning activities which attempts to match the preferred information presentation approach. By structuring class activities and assignments in multiple formats, students will have the chance to use their preferred learning approach.

  4. Instructors should remain open and flexible in their planning of instructional activities and formats. Although this study does not suggest the instructor match all students' preferred approach at all times, it is important from a motivational perspective to allow students to "buy into" the instructional process. Therefore, the instructor should attempt to provide options within assignments/projects. This will allow the student to develop their less dominant approaches yet also allow students to "tap into" their strengths for learning and demonstrating mastery of content.

  5. Various strategies may be more effective based on the type of information being presented; it may be more beneficial for the choice of the learning strategy to be used to be tailored to the depth of learning the instructor requires students to attain as opposed to attempting to match a student's preferred learning style. Creation of concept maps tends to foster critical thinking in students, and tends to allow gaps in knowledge to be determined (Phillips & Jackson, 1989) while researcher provided maps and adjunct/embedded questions facilitate organization of details, aid recall of factual information, and clarify the relationship among concepts (Novak, Gowin, & Johansen, 1983; Pressley, Tannenbaum, McDaniel, & Wood, 1990; Ruddell & Boyle, 1989).

  6. The combination of concept mapping and embedded questions, or the use of maps incorporating study questions should be explored, similar to the 1989 Phillips & Jackson study.

  7. Teach students how to utilize study strategies, especially if they are unfamiliar with the technique. Novak & Gowin (1984) indicate the benefits of concept mapping may take up to six months to be visible; further, to gain the greatest benefit of this technique it is necessary to include a prepositional phrase between nodes of the concept maps.

Final Comments

This study addressed the issue of what an instructor can do to maximize learning outcomes based on students' preferred learning style. It is not possible to match each student's style at all times, especially with a diverse population of students. The study explored two techniques, concept mapping and embedded questions, which may be beneficial to student organization and comprehension of information. Although statistical analysis yielded no conclusive results, the mapping techniques show promise based on other research studies (Duchastel & Nungester, 1984; Novak & Gowin, 1984; Phillips & Jackson, 1989; Ruddell & Boyle, 1989), and student comments of the effectiveness of the techniques should be taken into consideration before authoritatively adopting or rejecting the use of either of these techniques.

The goal of instruction is to help students to learn; as educators it is necessary to provide the conditions which will maximize that objective. This involves being willing to adapt teaching styles when possible and provide alternative learning aids when it is not possible to match students' learning styles. As Saracho (1998, p. 290) states

Cognitive style flexibility needs to be applied to (1) the matching of students and teachers, (2) matching of students and learning tasks, and (3) matching teaching methods and learning assignments, either by individual student or by cultural group.

It is important to expand our knowledge of the individual differences among teachers and students. It is also important to continue research on cognitive style to explore other patterns of knowledge that can provide insights on how to improve educational opportunities for students. Learning tasks that are rigidly prescribed for individual students merely based on achievement, cultural background, cognitive ability, cognitive style, or any other single set of individual characteristics can place students in jeopardy by limiting their abilities to learn in school settings. This jeopardy can place needless restrictions on the individuals' achievement at all levels of education.

Thus, educators are faced with the need to find ways to reach students of all learning styles and preferences. The greater the arsenal of instructional strategies, the more tools educators will have to draw upon in the goal of maximizing instruction. This study has provided a foundation for future research using this particular population which other interior design educators may draw in the course of their professional planning and course activities.