Speech-Language Pathology Students' Self-Efficacy for Reading and Discussing Research Articles Online: A Mixed Methods Study

Article excerpt

Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPS) provide assessment and therapy for multiple disorders in a variety of settings. Often, they work in rural areas without other SLPs nearby to discuss patient cases and evidence-based practices. Others work with several SLPs in the same building; however, specialties vary leaving a need for communication with others in the profession. In rural school systems, high levels of stress have been reported by SLPs secondary to decreased interaction with peers and supervisors as compared to urban counterparts (Blood, Thomas, Ridenour, Qualls, & Hammer, 2002). Professional isolation and limited support systems have been a problem for those working in rural allied health professions (Parkin, McMahon, Upfield, Copley, & Hollands, 2001).

On-line technology may provide a means for SLPs to present an effective means of communication with other professionals to discuss research, assessments, and therapy. These on-line interactions may serve to decrease work-related stress and increase the quality of patient care.

Introducing the use of online discussions in an educational setting may increase the likelihood that the participants will view technology as a tool to assist with their professional development when they enter the workforce. Increasing the participants' confidence to use technology was a goal of this study. Confidence was operationalized in this study as self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977; 1997).

The research presented in this report was conducted in the fall of 2005. First-year SLP graduate students were assigned to discuss six journal articles online using the Web CT course management system.

The following research questions were investigated:

Question 1: How is learner self-efficacy to discuss SLP journal articles online effected by Web CT journal article discussions over an extended period of time?

Question 2: How is learner self-efficacy for online technologies affected by Web CT journal article discussions over an extended period of time?

Question 3: What are learner perceptions of the online discussion assignments?

THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE

Fundamental to motivation is the concept of self-efficacy, which was introduced by Albert Bandura (I 977). "Perceived self-efficacy refers to beliefs in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments" (Bandura, 1997, p. 3). Thus, self-efficacy beliefs influence individuals' behavior by influencing the decisions of which tasks to engage, what level of effort they will expend, and how long they will persevere in the face of difficulty.

Bandura's (1977) introduction of self-efficacy theory included the proposition that self-efficacy is derived from four principal sources: performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological and affective states. Bandura's work is consistent in this proposition (Bandura, 1981, 1997), though performance accomplishments are now commonly referred to in the literature as enactive mastery experiences. These four areas are accepted as the core elements in the development of self-efficacy.

In the present study the focus was on the enactive mastery source of self-efficacy enhancement. Enactive mastery experiences refer to previous, successful experiences a learner has had performing a task. Successes build positive self-efficacy beliefs. Failures undermine self-efficacy, especially if failures are experienced before a firm belief in one's self-efficacy is formed. Bandura (1997) writes, "Enactive mastery experiences are the most influential source of efficacy information because they provide the most authentic evidence of whether one can muster whatever it takes to succeed." (p. 80). Through the successful completion of the assignments used in this study, learners should build confidence that they can use online technologies for professional development. …