Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

When the Tail Wags the Dog

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

When the Tail Wags the Dog

Article excerpt

Perceptions of Learning and Grade Orientation in, and by, Contemporary College Students and Faculty

According to most college catalogues, the major purpose of higher education is to provide students with access to significant ideas, innovative technologies, and new ways of thinking. Though such goals are advocated in formal and promotional materials, there is often a strong subtext emphasizing the significance of grades and grade point averages (Becker, Geer, & Hughes, 1968; Goulden & Griffin, 1997). One consequence to this joint emphasis is that students may construe their college careers in terms of the learning they attain, the grades they receive, or some combination of the two. Although learning for its own sake is publically offered as the desired outcome of higher education, some students come to focus on attaining a good grade even to the exclusion of learning course material; for example, when a student hires someone to write a term paper. Grades, rather than learning, become the primary objective of many students; the appearance of achievement becomes more important than the achievement itself.

To evaluate systematically the effects learning orientation and grade orientation have on contemporary college students, Eison, Pollio, and Milton (1982) developed the LOGO II scale. Most investigations using the LOGO II report low negative correlations between learning orientation (LO) and grade orientation (GO) indices, suggesting that the orientations are relatively independent. [1] Factor analytic studies of LOGO II reveal that learning-oriented students regard college largely as an opportunity to acquire new information that is personally relevant and intrinsically rewarding. In addition, students producing high LO scores are found to possess a wide variety of positive educational attributes, including effective study skills, low levels of test anxiety, above average reasoning abilities, and high levels of self motivation.

On the other hand, grade-oriented students view college as a crucible in which they must endure continual testing and evaluation. Students producing high GO scores are also found to have poor study habits, high test anxiety, below average Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, and low grade point averages (Beck, Rorrer-Woody, & Pierce, 1991; Milton, Pollio, & Eison, 1986). High learning-oriented and high grade-oriented individuals thus seem to represent two different student types, not only in terms of a relative emphasis on grades and learning but also in terms of other personal and educational characteristics (for additional results, see Eison & Pollio, 1985; Pollio, 1992).

Instructor attitudes toward grades and learning also may be expected to affect the ways in which students experience themselves and the college environment: that is, classroom practices of different instructors may promote (or de-emphasize) grades or learning. To evaluate instructor orientations toward learning and grades, Eison, Janzow, and Pollio (1993) developed a companion questionnaire to the LOGO II, the LOGO F scale. As in the case of LOGO II, correlational studies indicate a low, but statistically significant, negative relationship between LO and GO scores on LOGO F. Factor analytic studies found that learning-oriented instructors tend to be more flexible in their teaching and evaluation practices, set a higher premium on class discussion, and place greater value on cooperation between students than do less learning-oriented instructors. High grade-oriented professors, on the other hand, tend to believe that grades are good predictors of success in later life, are very concerned about grade inflation , teach to the "best and brightest," and value grades as incentives (Eison, Janzow, & Pollio, 1993; Pollio, 1992).

Learning and grade orientations also would seem to contribute to the ways in which students think of themselves, their professors, and the ways in which students and professors interact with one another. …

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