Research Self-Efficacy: A New Possibility for Educational Outcomes Assessment

Article excerpt

Does social work research education work? To answer this question, instructors employ an array of traditional measures, each with its own limitations and compromises. The validity and utility of student evaluations, for instance, continue to be intensely debated topics in higher education. This article presents the development of the Research Self-Efficacy scale which was designed to assess social work students' confidence in their ability to complete specific research activities. Preliminary evidence regarding reliability, validity, and sensitivity to change is presented.

SOCIAL WORK EDUCATORS utilize a variety of methods to assess educational outcomes (e.g., Hull, Mather, Christopherson, &Young, 1994; Kameoka & Lister, 1991). Hull and his colleagues view these methods as being comprised of three categories: student-focused; institution-focused, and process-focused. For student-focused measures, educators use combinations of homework, tests, quizzes, papers, presentations, or class participation. They also continue to rely on student course evaluations to assess students' views of the course and instruction methods. The validity and utility of student evaluations, however, continue to be an intensely discussed topic in higher education (d'Apollonia & Abrami, 1997; Greenwald, 1997; Greenwald & Gillmore, 1997; Jirovec, Ramanathan, & Alvarez, 1998; Pike, 1998) and even the popular media (Archibold, 1998). For instance, d'Apollonia and Abrami (1997) report that in a prior meta-analysis they found a correlation of only .33 between student ratings of general instructional skill and student learning.

Buchan (1991) recommends multidimensional assessment of social work education outcomes. The purpose of this article is to create a measure of an educational outcome for research methods courses using an effect size estimate approach to construct validity. It focuses on the concept of self-efficacy---the extent to which students are confident about carrying out different research tasks, from library research to designing and implementing practice research projects. Such a measure could be included in future multidimensional assessments.

Self-Efficacy

The notion of competence has been central to many important theories of human behavior (e.g., effectance motivation, achievement motivation, social learning, helplessness, mastery), and self-efficacy is one such example (Maddux, 1995). In his social cognitive theory, Bandura (1977, 1982, 1986, 1995, 1997b) emphasizes the construct of self-efficacy, described as confidence in "one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments" (1997, p. 3). Ratings of self-efficacy have repeatedly been shown to be predictive of a range of future behaviors (Ewart, 1995; Holden, 1991; Holden, Moncher, Schinke, & Barker, 1990; O'Leary, 1985; Strecher, DeVellis, Becker, & Rosenstock, 1986; Zimmerman, 1995).

Of particular importance to the current study is the role of self-efficacy in academic performance. Zimmerman (1995, p. 226) concludes that "the causal influence of efficacy beliefs on motivation and achievement is not only pervasive ... it is conceptually and empirically distinct from a wide array of related constructs." A meta-analysis conducted by Multon, Brown, and Lent (1991) provides further support for the use of self-efficacy as an educational outcome: "Results revealed positive and statistically significant relationships between self-efficacy beliefs and academic performance and persistence outcomes across a wide variety of subjects, experimental designs, and assessment methods" (p. 30). Beyond the vast array of empirical support for its predictive utility, self-efficacy has also received attention as a component of empowerment (Evans, 1992; Gutierrez, 1990; Holden, 1992; O'Connor & Korr, 1996; Ozer & Bandura, 1990; Parsons, East, & Boesen, 1994; Richan, 1994; Rose, 1994; Shera, 1994) as well as research on field education and practice (e. …