A Study on the Impact of GPA on Perceived Improvement of Higher-Order Cognitive Skills

A Study on the Impact of GPA on Perceived Improvement of Higher-Order Cognitive Skills
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   Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative EducationVolume 5 Number 1 January 2007  Printed in the U.S.A. A Study on the Impact of GPAon Perceived Improvement of Higher-OrderCognitive Skills ∗ Randy V. Bradley †  Department of Accounting and Information Management, University of Tennessee,639 Stokely Management Center, Knoxville, TN 37996, e-mail: Chetan S. Sankar and Howard R. Clayton  Department of Management, Auburn University, Lowder Business Building, Suite 401, Auburn, AL 36849-5341, e-mail:, Victor W. Mbarika Southern University and A&M College, College of Business, T.T. Allain Building, Baton Rouge, LA 70813, e-mail: P. K. Raju  Department of Mechanical Engineering, Auburn University, 333 Ross Hall, Auburn, AL 36849-5341, e-mail: ABSTRACT Colleges of Business (COBs) have experienced high growth rates in the past decadeand many colleges are imposing minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements for students to enter or remain in the college. A primary reason for this requirement maybe the belief that students with high GPAs are more inclined to demonstrate higher-order cognitive skills (HOCS) than students with low GPAs. It is not clear whether thelink is valid. This study hypothesizes that students with high GPAs who are taught inthe same way as students with lower GPAs will have higher perceptions of improvedHOCS. We conducted an experiment in which students, with varying GPAs, at threelarge universities primarily used multimedia instructional materials. We obtained thestudents’ perceptions of their improved HOCS from their responses to a survey. Aregression analysis of the data reveals that the relationship between GPAs and students’perceived improvement in HOCS is significant (  p  <  .001). We conclude the study byrecommending that (a) it is critical to use research methodologies to evaluate perceivedand actual learning improvements, (b) COB policies to implement GPA restrictions onadmission are worthwhile, and (c) case studies need to be used much more frequentlyin undergraduate COB classes. ∗ The materials developed in this article are based partially upon work supported by the National ScienceFoundation under grant numbers DUE #0442531, OISE #0623351, DUE #0089036, and DUE #0527328.Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this work are those of the authorsand do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. An earlier version of this articlewas presented at the 2005 Americas Conference on Information Systems. † Corresponding author. 151  152  Impact of GPA on Perceived Improvement of Higher-Order Cognitive Skills Subject Areas: Business Education, GPA, Higher-Order Cognitive Skills,and Multimedia Instructional Materials. INTRODUCTIONNeed for Study College of Business (COB) educators prepare students to be successful in theworkforce by providing them with an education that encompasses good decision-making skills (King, 2000) and the ability to develop higher-order cognitive skills(HOCS) (Ennis, 1985; Zoller, 1993, 1999). HOCS are especially necessary giventhe science- and technology-based society in which the students must function(Zoller, 1999). A successful education entails combining appropriate technicalskills with good business and communication skills (Tucker & McCarthy, 2001),which enable students to clearly communicate highly technical issues to non-technical personnel (Lim & Benbasat, 2000; Tucker & McCarthy, 2001). Empha-sizingtheneedforstudentstodemonstrateHOCS,researchers(Guzdial&Soloway,2002; King, 2000) state that to prepare students for success in the workforce, it iscritical to provide them with an education that helps to improve reasoning, prob-lem identification, criteria specification, integrating and interrelating content, andproblem-solving skills.ManyCOBshaveadoptedaminimumcumulativegradepointaverage(GPA)requirement in order to attract seemingly more ambitious and diligent students totheir programs. For instance, in Fall 2003, Florida State University raised the GPArequirement for admission to all of their undergraduate business majors from 2.60to 2.75 (Florida State University, 2003). They increased it further, from 2.75 to2.90, in Fall 2004. Other universities, including the University of Houston’s C. T.Bauer College of Business and the University of Iowa’s Henry B. Tippie Collegeof Business with new minimums of 2.75, have also enforced cumulative GPA re-quirementsforadmission(UniversityofHouston,2003;UniversityofIowa,2003).The COBs at Auburn University and the University of Alabama have continuedthe trend, with the former increasing its minimum GPA requirement for studentsto enroll in all upper-level business courses from 2.0 to 2.2 and the latter requiringa minimum 2.5 GPA to remain in the college.There have been instances when the nonbusiness colleges within a universitydo not appreciate these changes because the increased GPA requirement limits thenumber of students in their programs who are eligible to take COB classes. For example, a student in hospitality management might be enrolled in the Collegeof Arts & Sciences, but may have to take many courses in the COB. A minimumGPA requirement in the COB limits the number of students who graduate fromsuch programs unless the minimum GPA requirement is in effect for COB majorsonly. As students from other disciplines begin to need more business knowledge,the pressure on the COBs to provide business courses will increase; other collegesandschoolswithintheuniversitycannotofferbusinesscoursesduetoaccreditationstandards. For other colleges in a university system to accept the need for COBsto impose minimum GPA standards, it is important to perform studies that show   Bradley et al.  153 the influence of GPA on the perceived improvement of students’ skills. Althoughsome studies exist that link undergraduate GPA to admissions and success in COBprograms, a review of the literature reveals that most of the studies are limited tograduate students and graduate programs (Ahmadi, Raiszadeh, & Helms, 1997;Braunstein, 2002; Carver & King, 1994; Yang & Lu, 2001). In light of the in-formation about the need for such studies and the gap in the research presentedthus far, we conducted a study to investigate the relationship between GPA andstudents’ perceived improvement of their HOCS. We formulated the followingresearch question for our study:     What is the nature of the relationship between a student’s cumulative GPAand his/her perceived improvement of HOCS?In the next section, we discuss the theoretical basis for our study and theresulting hypothesis. We then discuss the research methodology and present theresults of the analysis. The article concludes with a discussion of the results andconclusions. THEORETICAL BACKGROUNDAND HYPOTHESIS DEVELOPMENTHOCS HOCSrepresenthowanindividualhasacquiredanadequateportfolioofskillsthatcould be used to make decisions within a specified time period. HOCS imply thata student has an improved ability to identify, integrate, evaluate, and interrelateconcepts within the multimedia case study and can make the appropriate decisionin a given problem-solving situation (Hingorani & Sankar, 1998; Notar, Wilson,& Ross, 2002; Zoller, 2000, 2002). The development of students’ HOCS is em-phasized as the superordinate goal in technical, scientific, business, and medicaleducation (Zoller, 1994, 1999, 2002).A widely used approach to improve students’ HOCS is problem-based learn-ing (PBL) (Bradley, Mbarika, Sankar, & Raju, 2005; Mbarika, Sankar, & Raju,2003a, 2003b). PBL is a strategy that has been used extensively in medicine andhas had a major impact on thinking and practice in medical education for the past20years(Barrows&Tamblyn,1980;Hmelo,1998).Althoughtherearemanyvari-ations of PBL, the paradigm involves teaching students to apply knowledge theyhave acquired within their disciplines to the solution of authentic, practical situa-tions. Collaborative environments, typically computer mediated, are used to helpstudents explore potential solutions as they attempt to solve the problems posed inthe cases. Such environments provide interactive feedback, enhancing the analysisof multiple perspectives (Koschmann, Myers, Feltovich, & Barrows, 1994).The theories that best guide PBL work are constructivism and cognitiveflexibility theories (Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1991). Constructivistsassume that learners engage not only in learning of the content, but also suchlearning processes as self-reflection, hypothesis formulation, potential solutionsgeneration, information gathering, and discussion of ideas with others. PBL is aninstructionaltoolthatrequireslearnerstoengageintheseprocessesastheyanalyze  154  Impact of GPA on Perceived Improvement of Higher-Order Cognitive Skills and solve a number of authentic cases. PBL also draws upon cognitive flexibilitytheory. It highlights the importance of learners viewing cases in an interconnectedway. Instructional design theorists contend that, when cases are compared directlywith one another, learners can analyze fine, yet critical differences between situa-tions. Enhancing this ability to discriminate cases enables students to understandthe complexity of a given topic or issue and to construct appropriate mental frame-works, making it more likely that they will transfer their learning from one contextto another. The benefits of PBL are not merely in the solution to a problem but inlearning to think through a problem, in considering alternatives through dialogu-ing with others, and in justifying decisions (Hmelo, Holton, & Kolodner, 2000;Hmelo-Silver & Pfeffer, 2004).TheapproachtodevelopingHOCSisbroaderthanseekingasinglesolutiontoa problem or completing an exercise. It involves identifying options or alternativesthrough the synthesis of data and then selecting an option or alternative that bestmeets the desired outcome. Because HOCS involve purposeful, outcome-directedthinking, the outcome gives meaning to the task (Hingorani & Sankar, 1998; Notar et al., 2002; Zoller, 2000, 2002). HOCS differ greatly from lower-order cognitiveskills, which involve memorizing and regurgitating a series of facts (Zoller, 1993,1999). Research Hypothesis Prior research indicates that GPA partially reflects the combination of students’intelligence and motivation (Brown & Campion, 1994; Ickes, Stinson, Bisson-nette, & Garcia, 1990). Studies on the motives for learning in education and workand the motivational effects of learning in education highlight the goals that drivehuman endeavor. For instance, the study of Vaiie et al. (2003) revealed that stu-dents’ predisposition to feel responsible for the results of their academic behavior (internal attribution) is related to positive self-image (academic self-concept). Stu-dents must have both internal attribution and academic self-concept to developlearning-orientedmotivation(learninggoals)(Vaiieetal.,2003).Thedevelopmentof learning goals involves selection and use of learning strategies, such as thoseaimed at fostering students’ HOCS and developing deep learning strategies (Vaiieetal.,2003).Vaiieetal.(2003)alsonotedthatdeeplearningstrategiesleadstudentstoassumeresponsibilitywithhighlevelsofpersistence,perseverance,andtenacityto achieve goals defined by the motivational orientation. The persistence and effortstudents need to achieve their proposed goals may have a positive and significanteffect on academic achievement and GPA.It is difficult to measure the actual learning that takes place with the useof new educational methodologies, such as multimedia case studies (Mbarika,2003). The number of instruments that are available to measure whether actuallearning takes place are limited. Based on a literature review, we were only able toidentify perceptual measures of HOCS improvement (Raju, Sankar, & Xue, 2004),so we restricted the research to measuring students’ perceived higher-level skillimprovement.In almost every context of skill development (e.g., sports, academic, poli-tics, music), status hierarchies based on skills arise. Those more competent in the   Bradley et al.  155 skill get more time to practice the skill, generating powerful feedback dynam-ics (Rosenthal, 2003). Those less competent in the skill get less time to practice.Therefore, it is essential for instructors to build equal access to the skill-buildingactivities. However, even if instructors build equal access, the team may discrim-inate among its members by not providing sufficient skill development to a fewmembers (Midtgaard, Rorth, Stelter, & Adamsen, 2006).Zohar, Degani, and Vaaknin (2001) interviewed 40 teachers and found thatnearly half of them believed that higher-order thinking was inappropriate for low-achieving students. Teachers were commonly cited as believing that the cognitivedemands of tasks requiring higher-order thinking were beyond the capabilities of low-achieving students. Similarly, Zohar and Dori (2003) found that students withhigh academic achievements gained higher thinking scores than their peers withlow academic achievements.The findings of Zohar et al. (2001) and Zohar and Dori (2003) help serve as abasisforourhypothesis.Inordertoaddtotheexistingbodyofliteratureinthisareaand to expand on prior studies, we use a quantitative measure, cumulative GPA, toadequately distinguish between low-achieving and high-achieving students. Our choice of cumulative GPA as a discriminator increases the robustness of the studyas it is representative of a student’s entire body of academic work. We posit thefollowing:H1: Compared to students with low GPAs, students with higher GPAs willperceive a greater improvement of their HOCS when exposed to thesame courses and teaching methods and when provided with equalaccess to skill-building activities.In the next section, we describe the methodology we used to test the hypothesis. METHODOLOGYSelection of Treatment Many methods are available that help students perceive improvement of HOCS. Inordertoconductthisstudy,weidentifiedamethodthatvalidatedanddemonstratedstudents’ perceived development of HOCS. For instance, online debates and peer tutoring (Fox & MacKeogh, 2003), personalized systems of instruction (Reboy &Semb, 1991), and project-based learning (Liu, 2003) have all been shown to beeffective means of helping students develop, improve, and utilize HOCS. Becausethese methods have not been validated to demonstrate whether they lead to per-ceived improvement of HOCS, we chose the multimedia case study methodologyas the treatment in this study. The multimedia case study methodology has beenvalidatedtodemonstratetheperceivedimprovementofHOCSinstudents(Mbarikaet al., 2003a; Mbarika, Sankar, Raju, & Raymond, 2001). Definition of Multimedia The term multimedia generally refers to a combination of several media of com-munication such as text, graphics, video, animation, music, and sound effects(Fetterman, 1997; Gaytan & Slate, 2002/2003; Mayer, 2003). When used inconjunction with computer technology, multimedia has also been referred to as
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