Do we know our students?: Analyzing Piagetian stages of cognitive development with a paper-pencil instrument
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. Department of Human and Community Resource Development Undergraduate Research Theses; 2011
Piaget’s stages of cognitive development: Have college students reached formal operations? Introduction Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development purports that Concrete Operations and Formal Operations are the highest stages of cognitive development and that learners reach the uppermost stage by age 15. Substages of Concrete Operations and Formal Operations can be studied in Cowan (1978). According to Cohen and Smith-Gold (1978), the two levels of Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development at which most college students operate are Concrete Operations and Formal Operations. However, Woolfolk (2007) stated, “Some students remain at Concrete Operations throughout their school years, even throughout life. However, new experiences, usually those that take place in school, eventually present most students with problems they cannot solve using concrete operations” (p. 35). Purpose of the Study In assessing cognitive abilities, Piaget created a series of tasks administered in one-on-one settings. Bakken simplifed the process with a paper-pencil instrument (Bakken, Thompson, Johnson & Dwyer, 2001; Dunn, 2006). The research questions guiding the study were: (1) Is a paper-pencil instrument valid and reliable to measure Piaget’s stages of cognitive development for undergraduate students? (2) Does a sample undergraduate class align with previous findings? Research method The Bakken Test of Piagetian Stages (1995) was utilized to measure stage of cognitive development and consisted of 21 multiple-choice questions composed of Piagetian tasks. Other items included problem-solving tasks involving classification, right-left relationship, perspective-taking, reasoning, and logic. An education class was selected as the pilot test group as a convenient, accessible sample. Findings The Bakkan instrument was determined to have content validity by a panel of experts, while face validity was determined by a field test with a like audience. Reliability of the instrument is currently under further investigation. Based on the responses to the Bakkan instrument, undergraduates (n = 19) were categorized into the following Piagetian stages: 5.3% were concrete sub1, 52.6% were concrete sub2, 15.8% were concrete sub 3, 21.1% were formal sub 1, 0 were formal sub 2, and 5.3% were formal sub 3. Therefore, 73.7% of undergraduates were at the Concrete Operation stage of cognitive development, aligning with Pascarella and Terenzini’s (1991) assertion that nearly 50% of entering college students are not operating at advanced stages of cognitive development. Implications The findings align with Cohen and Smith-Golden’s (1978) assertion that paper-pencil tests of cognitive tasks, “at Metropolitan State College, indicated that more than 75 percent of students entering the college had not reached Formal Operations” (p. 32). Therefore professors should use teaching strategies, and assignments that encourage students to develop cognitive skills. Recommendations Additional studies should be conducted to investigate the reliability of this instrument in measuring Piagetian stages of cognitive development with undergraduates. Studies comparing different post-secondary populations’ should be conducted. Specific teaching strategies designed to develop undergraduate cognitive stages should be studied. Professional development seminars should be taught that assist instructors in teaching their students in ways that both address their current stage of development, while assisting in their further cognitive development.
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