Research Learning Attributes of Graduate Students in Social Work, Psychology, and Business

Article excerpt

WHEN SUMMARIZING OBSERVATIONS and reactions to having taught the required research and statistics courses, social work faculty have consistently emphasized students' low levels of preparation, motivation, and achievement (Bogal & Singer, 1981; Epstein, 1987; Forte, 1995; Grasso & Epstein, 1992; Smith, DeWeaver, & Kilpartrick, 1986). Irwin Epstein, for example, a 30-year veteran of teaching research courses, describes his students as "research reluctant" and observes that "no other part of the social work curriculum has been so consistently received by students with as much groaning, moaning, eye-rolling, hyperventilation, and waiver strategizing as the research course" (p. 71).

In response to faculty observation and experience, a significant proportion of social work's research teaching literature has been devoted to methods and techniques for encouraging and motivating students, as well as helping them manage their anxiety about learning, consuming, and conducting research. This literature encourages research faculty to anticipate the importance of student research reluctance in the planning and teaching of their courses. Accordingly, faculty are advised to emphasize group process variables in their teaching and presentation of research content, to facilitate and model humor and self-disclosure, to focus their courses on the practical rather than the theoretical, and to replace the traditional deductive emphasis of research teaching with more inductive experiential approaches to student learning (Epstein, 1987; Forte, 1995; Glisson & Fisher, 1987; Kirk & Kolevzon, 1978; Rabin, 1985; Royse, 1999; Royse & Rompf, 1992; York, 1997, 1998).

Overall, the consistency of these descriptions of student learning and prescriptions for teaching suggest that social work students may be unique when compared to students in other professions and disciplines. Surprisingly, however, only a single study has systematically compared the research learning attributes of social work students to those of students in other disciplines and professions. In this study, David Royse and Elizabeth Rompf investigated whether the reluctance and anxiety they had observed among their BSW students exceeded that experienced by undergraduate students in other disciplines and professions. It was their view that undergraduate social work students, when compared to students in other disciplines, experienced more math anxiety or "feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a variety of ordinary life and academic situations" (Royse & Rompf, 1992). To test this proposition, they administered the Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale-Revised (MARS-R) to a sample of 419 undergraduate students enrolled at a large state university on the first day of class. The social work sample was comprised of 163 undergraduate majors enrolled in either statistics (n=54) or research methods (n=109) courses. The comparison group (n=256) included undergraduate students from a variety of other majors who had enrolled in an undergraduate statistics course in the same university. Royse and Rompf hypothesized that the social work students would report (1) higher levels of math anxiety on the MARS-R, (2) having completed fewer mathematics courses, and (3) more bad experiences in math courses when compared with reports of students in the undifferentiated degree group. Although the study revealed no differences in the number of bad experiences reported, the social work undergraduates, as predicted, had higher scores on the MARS-R and reported taking fewer math courses than the undifferentiated undergraduate majors.

Royse and Rompf's study affirms and begins to provide data-based support for the continuing use of specialized research teaching techniques for undergraduate social work students. There is no similar empirical evidence, however, to suggest that these techniques are also more applicable to social work graduate students than to graduate students in other fields and disciplines. …