Academic journal article College Student Journal

Skill Development in the Psychology Major: What Do Undergraduate Students Expect?

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Skill Development in the Psychology Major: What Do Undergraduate Students Expect?

Article excerpt

The present study examined undergraduate students' expectations for how well psychology majors develop 60 skills corresponding to five of the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Undergraduate Psychology Major Competencies (APA, 2002) suggested learning goals. We also examined where students expect psychology majors to get the majority of their training in each skill as a means of assessing the Task Force's concern that people generally view psychology as a service-delivery field, not a science. Analyses revealed that students' expectations were aligned with APA goals according to both where and how well they expect psychology majors to develop skills. We discuss similar methods for departmental outcomes assessment as well as implications for psychology curricula.

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Recognizing the diversity in expectations for student learning at the departmental level, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Undergraduate Psychology Major Competencies (APA, 2002) developed a set of learning goals and outcomes for the psychology majors. Five of the goals are psychology-specific (Knowledge Base of Psychology, Research Methods in Psychology, Critical Thinking Skills in Psychology, Application of Psychology, and Values in Psychology) and five are related more to a general liberal arts education (Information and Technological Literacy, Communication Skills, Socio-cultural and International Awareness, Personal Development, and Career Planning and Development).

In their report, the Task Force (APA, 2002) stated that one of the reasons for developing these goals and outcomes was that "the discipline of psychology suffers from challenges to its identity" (p. 5), in that most people see psychology as only a service-oriented field, not as a scientific discipline. Consistent with this statement, researchers (e.g., Appleby, 2000; Landrum & Harrold, 2003) have found that potential employers for psychology majors value social, interpersonal, and/or clinical skills much higher than research skills, which tend to be rated at the bottom end of their scales.

At a more local level, through teaching our department's Orientation to a Major in Psychology course, we have found that the majority of our students enter the major with interests in clinical service delivery and very few have interests in research. Results of informal polls at the beginning of each semester suggest that greater than 75% of our students also report that they expect to go on to graduate school and believe that high GPAs and clinical experience will get them there. Of course, other surveys have found that psychology graduate admissions committees (e.g., Appleby, Keenan, & Mauer, 1999; Keith-Spiegel, Tabachnick, & Spiegel, 1994), however, tend to value research skills the most and clinical skills the least when making admissions decisions. The purpose of the present study was to examine students' expectations for the psychology major in relation to the APA Task Force's (2002) suggested learning goals and outcomes.

We chose to focus only on skill development for the present study for a number of reasons. First, more than ever before researchers are examining skill development as an outcome for learning among psychology majors. For example, Lawson (1999) developed a measure of critical thinking as an outcome measure, and Williams, Oliver, Allin, Winn, and Booher (2003) found that increases in scores on this measure across a semester were related to higher exam scores in an undergraduate human development course. Other researchers have recently reported new techniques for teaching and assessing such skills as scientific inquiry (Halonen et al., 2003) and test-scoring (Egan, McCabe, Semenchuk, & Butler, 2003). Second, we recognize that the majority of our students will actually obtain bachelor's level jobs and, as Appleby (2003) has stated, "employers hire people for what they can do, not for what they know" (p. …

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