Attributions, group size, and exposure time as predictors of elementary children's performance on a microcomputer task

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<ul><li><p>Pergamon Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 145-157, 1996 </p><p>Copyright 1995 Elsevier Science Ltd Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved </p><p>0747-5632/96 $15.00 + .00 </p><p>0747-5632(95) 00025-9 </p><p>Attributions, Group Size, and Exposure Time as Predictors of Elementary Children's </p><p>Performance on a Microcomputer Task </p><p>Lois J. Baron and Miranda D'Amico </p><p>Department of Education, Concordia University </p><p>Mary Elizabeth Sissons and Patricia L. Peters </p><p>Concordia University </p><p>Abstract- In order to assess the relationship of group size, exposure time, and attributions on children's performance on a microcomputer task, fifth-and sixth-grade children were exposed to either a drill-and-practice program (n -~ 254), or a tutorial program (n = 239), in groups of one, two, or four, for one, two, or three half-hour sessions. The ability of attributions about performance, exposure time, and group size to predict actual performance was investigated. Hierarchical regression indicated that exposure time was a significant predictor of performance on posttests for the drill- and-practice program, but not for the tutorial program. Group size did not predict performance on posttests. Attributions to uncontrollable causes (ability and task difficulty) contributed to the prediction of performance on both tasks. Attributions to effort and luck were not significant predictors of performance. Interactions between group size and attributions, and exposure time and attributions, did not contribute to the prediction of performance. It is suggested that program developers focus on designing software which gives children appropriate effort feedback in order to enhance motivation to learn. </p><p>Requests for reprints should be addressed to Dr. Lois J. Baron, Department of Education, Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3G 1M8. </p><p>145 </p></li><li><p>146 Baron, D'Amico, Sissons, and Peters </p><p>In our achievement-oriented society, great emphasis is placed on ways in which children are motivated to work in school, in preparation for later life. Although the majority of elementary students are generally perceived to be highly motivated to learn, some students are more motivated to achieve than are others (Rogers, 1990). The level of achievement motivation is a function of the individual's disposition to avoid failure or strive for success, as well as of task variables (Atkinson, 1958, 1964). Achievement motivation is in turn positively correlated with a child's academic self-concept (Shavelson &amp; Bolus, 1982; Wylie, 1979), and academic self-concept and feelings of efficacy can be predicted by how successful one has been in the past (Calsyn &amp; Kenny, 1977). </p><p>The influence of past experience on academic self-concept, and hence, achievement motivation, is evidenced in the types of attributions the child makes in explaining past success or failure. According to Weiner (1972, 1974), the four major perceived causes of success or failure in academic tasks are ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck. These attributions can be classified along a continuum of three dimensions: stability, locus of causality, and controllability (Frieze, 1980; Weiner, 1979). Along the dimension of stability, ability and task difficulty are viewed as being relatively stable, whereas effort and luck are relatively unstable. Locus of causality can be either internal or external. Along this dimension, ability and effort are viewed as coming from within, whereas task difficulty and luck are viewed as external in origin. On the controllability dimension, the subjective view of effort is that it is controllable, whereas ability, task difficulty, and luck are uncontrollable (Gredler, 1992). </p><p>The choice of attributions for success or failure is made on the basis of the personality of the person making the attributions, as well as on the basis of information available about the situation in which the success or failure occurred (Frieze, Francis, &amp; Hanusa, 1983). Research has shown that some of the more important types of information used to make attributions are history of success on similar tasks, how well others have performed on the same or similar tasks, effort expended, and type of task being evaluated (Frieze, 1975, 1980; Frieze &amp; Snyder, 1980; Frieze &amp; Weiner, 1971; Weiner et al., 1971). </p><p>Although the subjective view of causes of success or failure is variable, some patterns have been established. In general, self-esteem is preserved by ascribing success to "internal" factors such as hard work and high ability, while factors outside the self, such as bad luck and task difficulty, are used to explain failure (Johnson, 1981; Kaminsky, 1986). </p><p>Both the degree and consistency of past successful performance are important influences on the types of attributions made. Consistency of performance results in attributions to task difficulty and ability (stable factors) while inconsistent previous performance leads to attributions of luck and effort (unstable factors; Ames, Ames, &amp; Felker, 1977; Frieze &amp; Weiner, 1971). Investigating further the relationship between level of success and consistency, Weiner (1974) found that a consistent record of previous success led to the selection of ability as the cause, whereas moderate previous success led to the selection of effort as the main cause. When prior success was rare, luck was seen as the main cause. Therefore it might be expected that, given consistency in success, increased exposure to a task would increase attributions to stable causes. In addition, degree of success would influence attributions along the dimension of locus-of-control, such that a high degree of success would result in attributions to internal factors, whereas a low degree of success would result in attributions to external factors. </p></li><li><p>Children's attributions and CAI 147 </p><p>Consistency of success influences the affective reaction which takes place after an attribution has been made. This affective reaction influences expectancies for future success or failure, and in turn, tendencies to behave in particular ways (Bell-Gredler, 1986). For students who have consistent success, the result is high expectation of future success, which enhances feelings of competence and high self-esteem. Individuals who view themselves as being lower in ability may tend to ascribe failure to internal causes, and therefore expect failure in the future, resulting in a decline in performance. Conversely, these individuals may also ascribe failure to external causes, such as bad luck or task difficulty, which, since they are beyond control, may also lead to future failure (Bell-Gredler). Thus, through continued failure, these individuals may learn to see no relationship between their actions and success. </p><p>One way of reversing the negative consequences of failure is to provide more opportunities for success in which individuals may associate their actions with their achievement. Success in group learning can provide opportunities for students to develop positive self-images and a sense of efficacy by providing experiences where success is more likely, and where each member of the group feels as if they have contributed to that success. Success within a group may, in turn, help to raise self-esteem and the perception of competence of low- performing students (Ames et al., 1977). Within groups, social factors, such as feedback, social comparison, and modeling, may influence children's motivation to achieve and their sense of competence (Harter, 1982; Schunk, 1983; Schunk &amp; Hanson, 1985). Nevertheless, placing children in groups does not always guarantee positive results. Salomon and Globerson (1989) conducted a study where students were paired on their differing abilities in reading or writing and were asked to work on a task related to that skill. The researchers found that some team members put less effort into the task, relying instead upon the work of the other team member ("freeloader effect"). The effects of such a situation were lower amounts of invested mental effort by the more able members, who may have felt that they were being taken advantage of ("sucker effect"). Although some team members, who were exerting greater effort, may have learned well, the teams may not have been achieving optimally (Salomon &amp; Globerson). </p><p>One mode of instruction that is particularly suited to group learning is the microcomputer learning experience. Several researchers have reported the positive effects of computer-assisted instruction (CAI; Chambers &amp; Sprecher, 1980; Edwards, Norton, Taylor, Weiss, &amp; Dusseldorp, 1975; Jamison, Suppes, &amp; Wells, 1974; Vinsohaler &amp; Bass, 1972). Increased student involvement and engagement with CAI, compared with other instructional methods, may account for equal learning in less time (Bright, 1983). Studies of academic learning time have demonstrated a relationship among allocated time, student engagement, student success rate, and achievement (Crist-Whitzel, 1985). In a meta-analysis of several studies, Kulik (1986) found that CAI enhanced learning, reduced learning time, and resulted in more positive attitudes toward learning than traditional modes of instruction. Further, some forms of CAI provide built-in proximal goal-setting, as well as rewards contingent on performance, which are important influences on perceived competence and motivation (Schunk, 1984). Nevertheless, the way in which CAI is presented to children is important to their success at the task. If students have high efficacy expectations, task motivation is enhanced, leading to better performance (Olivier &amp; Shapiro, 1993). Repeated success is an important way to elevate efficacy expectations (Olivier &amp; Shapiro). </p></li><li><p>148 Baron, D'Amico, Sissons, and Peters </p><p>Group CAI has been shown to be as effective a learning experience as individual CAI. Introducing computer technology in the classroom has been found to increase both the number and quality of social interactions (Hawkins, 1983, 1987; Hawkins, Homolsky, &amp; Heide, 1984; Hawkins, Sheingold, Gearhart, &amp; Berger, 1982; Krasnor &amp; Mitterer, 1985; Shade, Nida, Lipinski, &amp; Watson, 1986; Sheingold, Kane, &amp; Endrewait, 1983), and a number of studies of group microcomputer learning at high school and college levels found no negative effects for groups (Carrier &amp; Sales, 1987; Cox, 1980; Lebel, 1982; Okey &amp; Majer, 1976; Trowbridge &amp; Durnin, 1984). Studies have found no significant differences in performance between groups and individuals (Baron &amp; Abrami, 1992a, 1992b; Gunterman &amp; Tovar, 1987), and, in addition, reduced study time was the result of working in groups at the computer (Okey &amp; Majer). </p><p>Factors related to the context of the group interaction, involving both the social process and the task itself, may also contribute to the development of self- efficacy and motivation to persist in the task (Nastasi &amp; Clements, 1992). The environment which provides social feedback about the quality of performance, comparison of one's own abilities with those of peers, opportunities for cooperation, and/or modeling of motivational orientation and sense of competence is the one most likely to engender both motivation and perceived competence (Nastasi &amp; Clements). Indeed, since group CAI provides feedback from both the computer and one or more peers, the opportunities for developing a greater sense of competence are increased. In addition to varying the number of students in a group, the two studies reported in this paper used different types of software (drill-and-practice and tutorial), allowing for an indirect comparison of the relationship between type of task and attributions. </p><p>To summarize, group work has been shown to enhance positive affect and motivation by providing success experiences within a social context. Further, CAI has been shown to be an effective and efficient educational tool and has the advantage of improving motivation by providing consistent feedback and proximal goal setting. Group CAI has been shown to result in enhanced social interaction as well as equally, or more efficient, learning. Questions asked of the research included the following: (a) In addition to exposure time and group size, will the types of attributions made predict performance? (b) Will attributions interact with exposure time and group size to predict performance? and (c) Will there be differences across task in the ability of exposure time, group size, and attributions to predict performance? </p><p>STUDY 1 </p><p>Method </p><p>Subjects. In the first study, subjects were 160 fifth-grade and 94 sixth-grade students from three English-first-language schools in metropolitan Montreal. There were 114 girls and 126 boys (14 subjects were absent when gender was recorded). A demographic questionnaire indicated that the majority of subjects had previously used a microcomputer (and for a combination of uses). Most subjects did not have a microcomputer at home, nor had they ever worked on the educational software used in this study. Children participated with parental consent. </p></li><li><p>Children's attributions and CAI 149 </p><p>Materials. Software. Word Attack (a drill-and-practice program; Davidson &amp; Eckert, </p><p>1983) was chosen for this study. Word Attack is a four-part vocabulary-building program that is designed to teach users new words, their meanings, and their usages. It reinforces recall and use of words through a quiz-like format. Word Attack was chosen after reviewing software catalogues published by major educational software developers and publishing companies. It met the following selection criteria: (a) its learning objectives could be measured by a paper-and- pencil test, (b) learner feedback was immediate, (c) it could be teacher-edited, (d) it was age-appropriate and the readability level was at, or below, the targeted grade level, (e) it could be used by groups or individuals, (f) it was user friendly, and (g) it was compatible with the Apple computers used in the study (see Baron &amp; Abrami, 1992a, for more information on selection procedures). </p><p>Instrumentation. Before the treatment sessions, all subjects were administered the Basic Word Vocabulary Test (BWVT; Jamestown Publishers, 1975). The BWVT measures vocabulary development using a multiple-choice format. Students are asked to choose the word that has the same meaning as the example. The median correlation coefficient between the BWVT and such standardized tests as the Sequential Tests of Educational Progress is .76. The internal consistency reliability of the BWVT is .96. All subjects also completed a background questionnaire which asked students questions pertaining to whether they prefer working alone or with others, their use of computers as tools or for games, whether they had computers at home, and whether they were familiar with the program they would be using in the study. Pretesting was carried out across the sample classes to determine if they had equal variability in the BWVT. </p><p>Posttest measures consisted of an achievement test which was deve...</p></li></ul>