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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2003
Three Degrees of Separation From Original Knowledge
That Challenge Psychology Students as They Enter
and Progress Through Undergraduate Programs

Drew Appleby, PhD, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis

Psychology students who are successful at one level of education (e.g., their senior year in high school) are not always successful at the next level (e.g., their freshman year in college). Many factors can contribute to this problem (e.g., poor time management or lack of study skills), but one factor I have identified in many of my students is the challenge they face when their next level of education requires them to exhibit the skills required to move one step closer to original knowledge. Original knowledge refers to information that is actually created by a student (e.g., a unique research project), not the knowledge of other scholars that a student has heard about in a lecture or read about in a textbook. Faculty deal with this problem in two ways. The first way is to simply allow students to discover and master these degrees of separation on their own. This academically Darwinian approach assumes that bright students will develop the new skills necessary to adapt to their new educational environment and their less well-endowed peers will fail and drop out of the educational process when they reach a degree of separation they cannot master. This unfortunate strategy is based on the assumption that "not everyone belongs in college."

The second strategy, which is designed to enable a greater number of students to succeed in college, is to (a) make students aware of the existence and nature of these degrees of separation from original knowledge, (b) help them understand and value the skills necessary to make these transitions, and (c) provide them with multiple opportunities to master these skills. This strategy, which is the purpose of this article, is based on the work of Vygotsky (1978), who theorized in his book Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Mental Processes that humans learn from interacting with others and then internalize what they have learned. One of Vygotsky's most important explanatory concepts was the zone of proximal development, which represents the distance between what a person can do with help and what the person has already mastered. When this distance is too great, frustration and failure can result. Vygotsky said that effective teachers use scaffolding to reduce this frustration and failure. This technique is based on the assumption that teachers should provide students with only the amount of information they need to solve a problem and no more. This means that during the initial phase of knowledge acquisition, teachers provide a large amount of information and help (see Stage One below), but that as students are gradually required to operate at the Second, Third, and Fourth Stages, faculty provide less and less help. For Vygotsky, the learning process is a very interactive and social affair during which learners begin as novices, progress to apprentices, and eventually become experts like their mentors (Kremer, Brown, Rings, & Buccini, 2003). Thus, it behooves faculty (a) to make their students aware of the existence of these stages of degrees of separation from original knowledge and then (b) to provide them with the advice and support that will enable them to develop the skills necessary to progress from one stage to the next as required by the increasing demands of the undergraduate psychology curriculum. That is the purpose of this article.

The following four stages of degrees of separation from original knowledge are followed by the activities that students and their instructors engage in during the teaching - learning process that occur at each stage. Please note that each of these stages builds upon the skills learned at the previous stage and that students must progress from being passive to active learners during this process. The successful completion of this process produces the ability to exhibit the lifelong learning skills that Appleby (2001) says "you will need not only to be a successful employee, but also in your life outside the workplace as a successful partner, parent, friend, neighbor, and citizen" (p. 34).

Stage One: Third Degree of Separation
What must students do at this stage, which takes place in high school and in some introductory-level college classes?
1. Students must listen to teachers who
2. explain what they have learned from textbook authors who have
3. written about what they have learned about original research that has been
4. performed and published by scholars.

What skills are necessary for successful performance at this stage?
1. Listening skills.
2. The critical thinking skill that Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl (1956) called knowledge in their pioneering book on the cognitive taxonomy of educational objectives, which has been renamed to remember by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) in their recent revision of Bloom et al.'s taxonomy. This skill refers to the ability to memorize and recall specific information such as facts, names, and dates.

How do faculty teach at this stage?
1. The goal of faculty at this stage of instruction is to make sure that students are aware of and can remember the important material that appears in their textbooks so they can answer questions about this material on tests. Success is achieved when students are able to repeat what faculty have told them in an accurate manner.
2. Faculty expect students to listen carefully to their lectures and to take good notes. They often help their students distinguish between important and unimportant ideas in this stage with phrases such as, "Be sure this is in your notes" or "This will be on the test." Gibson has labeled a faculty member who operates at this stage as "a sage on the stage" whose students are "like baby birds and the professor dropped the worm in their mouths" (cited in Young, 1997, para. 19).
3. Reading is not always a necessary student skill in this stage because faculty lecture about what is covered in the textbooks.

How do faculty evaluate student performance at this stage?
1. Objective tests (e.g., multiple choice or true-false) are often used, requiring students to match the knowledge they have learned with the answers faculty provide on the test (e.g., specific terms and their exact definitions from lecture).
2. Short answer or fill-in-the-blank questions are also used, requiring students to define, identify, list, match, or describe information.
3. Students who can listen carefully, take accurate notes, memorize what they have written in their notes, and recall what they have memorized are successful at this stage.

Who is the ultimate source of knowledge at this stage?
1. The faculty member is the ultimate source of knowledge at this stage.
2. Successful students quickly discover that the key to earning good test scores is give faculty back the knowledge they received from them in lectures, often in words that are as close to the faculty's original words as possible.

What lessons do successful students learn at this stage?
1. Listen carefully to what your teachers tell you.
2. Remember what your teachers told you.
3. Return what your teachers told you to them on their tests.

Stage Two: Second Degree of Separation
What must students do at this stage, which takes place in some introductory and many intermediate-level college classes?
1. Students must read what textbook authors have
2. written about what they have learned about original research that has been
3. performed and published by scholars.

What skills are necessary for successful performance at this stage?
1. The skills mastered during the previous stage, plus the following skills.
2. Reading skills.
3. The critical thinking skill that Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) call to understand, which refers to students' abilities to not only remember specific information, but also be able to comprehend its meaning, to define it in their own words, and to create their own examples of it.

How do faculty teach at this stage?
1. The goal of this stage of instruction is for students to become less passive and less dependent upon their faculty to teach them the material and to become more active and more independent in their ability to acquire and comprehend complex information on their own.
2. Faculty expect their students to come to class "prepared" (i.e., to have completed the reading assignment before class), and they view class time as an opportunity to clarify difficult or complex information and to engage students in active discussions about the material, not as a time to simply repeat the material from the textbook. Gibson has labeled a faculty member who operates at this stage--and the following two stages--as a "guide-on-the-side" (as opposed to "a sage on the stage") who helps students to actively "analyze and synthesize information," not just memorize it (cited in Young, 1997, para. 19).
3. Success is achieved when students are able to (a) learn the material on their own, (b) come to class prepared to learn about the material more "in depth," and (c) confirm their comprehension of the material by answering questions that require them to demonstrate understanding rather than memorization.

How do faculty evaluate student performance at this stage?
1. Faculty use multiple-choices tests that involve the interpretation of complex analogies or scenarios, and essay questions that begin with the words explain, interpret, predict, distinguish, or defend.
2. Students who can comprehend what they read (i.e., actually understand the material in their textbooks rather than simply memorizing it) are successful at this stage.

Who is the ultimate source of knowledge at this stage?
1. The textbook author is the ultimate source of knowledge at this stage.
2. Successful students know that the key to earning high grades is to study their textbooks in depth so they can explain the material in their own words and create their own examples of it.

What lessons do successful students learn at this stage?
1. Read your textbook carefully.
2. Use class time to strengthen your grasp on the material you have learned from your textbook and to clarify the material you have not yet mastered.
3. Strive to fully understand the material from your textbook and use this understanding to answer questions that require the use of this material beyond its simple memorization.

Stage Three: First Degree of Separation
What must students do at this stage, which takes place in upper level college classes?
1. Students must read original research, which has been
2. performed and published by others.

What skills are necessary for successful performance at this stage?
1. The skills mastered during the previous two stages, plus the following skills.
2. The critical thinking skills that Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) call to analyze and to evaluate.
a. The ability to analyze refers to the capacity to reduce a complex whole to its
constituent parts and to understand how these parts operate together to form the whole.
b. The ability to evaluate refers to the ability to use an established set of criteria
to judge the value of a process, product, or idea.

How do faculty teach at this stage?
1. The goal of faculty at this stage is to enable students to become informed consumers of psychological literature. This means that students must not only understand the nature and purposes of the components of an article that appears in a professional journal (e.g., its abstract; introduction; and methods, results, and discussion sections), but they must also be capable of deciding whether or not the article has sufficient merit to be taken seriously. They can no longer rely on a textbook author to do this for them; they must read the article themselves and come to their own conclusions.
2. The first thing faculty must do to prepare students to read professional psychological literature is to teach them how to identify and understand the purpose of the component parts of an article and the manner in which these parts are organized (i.e., how to analyze an article). In an article reporting the results of an empirical study, the abstract provides a summary of the article's contents; the introduction describes the problem addressed by the study, the strategy to solve this problem, and the previous research on this problem; the methods section provides a detailed account of how the study was conducted; the results section summarizes the methods by which the data was collected and analyzed, the discussion section presents an evaluation and/or interpretation of how the results relate to the original problem; and the reference section enables the reader to identify and locate the sources of information cited in the article (American Psychological Association [APA], 2001).
3. There are also many ways that faculty can help students evaluate the credibility of articles and the information they contain. One way is to pay close attention to the source of the article itself (e.g., Does it come from a professional journal or a popular magazine? If it comes from the Internet, does its Web address end in edu, org, or com?). Another method is to examine (a) the manner in which the data reported in the article were statistically analyzed and (b) the conclusions the authors drew from these analyses. For example, did the authors select an appropriate sample of participants, control or randomize potentially confounding variables, follow ethical guidelines during the data collection process, choose a suitable statistical test for the data they collected, and draw reasonable conclusions from the results of their statistical analyses (e.g., not using the results of a correlation to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between variables)?

How do faculty evaluate student performance at this stage?
1. Faculty can require students to read samples of the psychological literature and then come to class prepared to discuss the organizational structure of these articles, the validity of their methods, and the merit of their conclusions.
2. Essay questions can also be used to determine students' understanding of the composition and purpose of types of psychological literature (e.g., What are the sections of an article that report the results of an empirical study, what are the purposes of these sections, and how does the order of these sections reflect the sequence of the stages of the study?).
3. Faculty can also assign a term paper that requires students to write about a particular psychological problem in such a way that the paper "defines and clarifies the problem; summarizes previous investigations in order to inform the reader of the state of current research; identifies relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies in the literature; and suggests the next step or steps in solving the problem (APA, 2001, p. 7).

Who is the ultimate source of knowledge at this stage?
1. The APA Publication Manual (2001) and the textbooks used in the student's statistics and research methods classes (and their instructors) are the ultimate sources of knowledge at this stage.
2. Successful students know that the key to earning high grades at this stage is to become fully aware of the research methods in psychology and the style of writing (i.e., APA style) used to report the results of these methods.

What lessons do successful students learn at this stage?
1. The truth of any psychological statement is based upon the validity of the method or methods used to support it.
2. If you want to become a professional psychologist, it is essential for you to learn how to perform research like one and to report the results of your research like one.

Stage Four: No Separation
What must students do at this stage, which takes place in independent research or capstone classes?
1. Perform original research and report it in a scholarly manner.

What skills are necessary for successful performance at this stage?
1. The skills mastered during the previous three stages.
2. The critical thinking skills that Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) call to apply and to create.
a. The ability to apply refers to the capacity to use learned material to solve problems.
b. The ability to create refers to the capability to synthesize separate parts into unusual
and useful combinations.

What are the significant characteristics of student performance at this stage?
1. An independent research project, which results in an APA-style report and often a poster or presentation at an undergraduate research conference, is the product that is evaluated at this stage.
2. Not all psychology majors reach this stage, but those who are planning to apply to graduate school are encouraged to engage in this type of research because it will prepare them for the research they will perform in graduate school and allow them to determine if they are suited to this type of challenge.
3. Students who can plan, carry out, and report scientific research in a professional manner are successful at this stage.

How do faculty teach at this stage?
1. The goal of faculty at this stage is to enable students to become creative scientific problem solvers.
2. Faculty must support and mentor their students as they put the following skills (Holden, Barker, Meenaghan, & Rosenberg, 1999) they acquired in their statistics and research methods courses into practice:
a. Perform an electronic database search and write a comprehensive literature review.
b. Formulate a clear research question and derive a testable hypothesis.
c. Follow APA's ethical guidelines for research with human and animal participants.
d. Select and implement an appropriate research design and sampling strategy.
e. Manipulate, measure, and control the variables under investigation.
f. Collect, organize, and maintain the data collected.
g. Select and implement an appropriate statistical analysis of the data.
h. Write a report of the results of the study in APA style.
i. Make a formal oral report of the results to a group of peers.

How do faculty evaluate student performance at this stage?
1. Faculty evaluate their students' products at this stage with the same criteria they use to evaluate their colleagues' professional products when they review manuscripts for journals or serve on promotion and tenure committees.
2. Examples of these criteria are the reliability and validity of the instruments used in the study, the ability of the design to successfully test the hypothesis, adherence to the ethical principles of research, and the degree to which the population tested supports the generalizations made (APA, 2001).

Who is the ultimate source of knowledge at this stage?
1. The student becomes the ultimate source of knowledge at this stage because she or he is the person who is actually creating original knowledge by performing an innovative research project and reporting its results in a scholarly manner.
2. It is important to note that several publications (e.g., the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research) have been created for the sole purpose of publishing the work of undergraduate researchers.

What lessons do successful students learn at this stage?
1. The most important lesson students learn at this stage is that they are no longer being judged (i.e., graded) on the basis of their ability to learn what psychologists have discovered and how they have discovered it; they are now being judged on the basis of their ability to make meaningful contributions to the science of psychology themselves.
2. This is the stage in which students become aware that their primary responsibility has shifted from simply acquiring knowledge about psychology to actually creating psychological knowledge.

Concluding Remarks and Personal Advice
It is crucial to understand that the stages I have described are developmental in nature (i.e., each of them must take place before the next one can occur), and that you must master all six of the critical thinking skills described by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) before you can begin to create your own original psychological knowledge. That is, you must be able to remember information before you can understand it; you must be able to understand information before you can analyze it; you must be able to analyze information before you can evaluate it; you must be able to evaluate information before you can apply it; and finally, you must be able to apply information before you can create original knowledge. According to Brewer (1993) in his chapter on curriculum that appears in the Handbook for Enhancing Undergraduate Education in Psychology, "The fundamental goal of education in psychology, from which all the others follow, is to teach students to think as scientists about behavior" (p. 169). If you keep this "big picture" in mind as you progress through your undergraduate curriculum, you will be better able to understand the value of the courses you are taking, rather than simply taking them because they are required, because your advisor told you to take them, or to simply get them out of the way. This big-picture viewpoint will provide you with an educational context in which teaching and learning can be maximally effective.

I wrote this article to help you understand why you are required to take certain classes, why you should take your classes in a certain sequence (e.g., statistics before research methods), what critical thinking skills you can develop in your classes, and the connection between these skills and your ability to progress successfully through your undergraduate education (Appleby, 2002). The purpose of this article is to provide you with this information and to empower you to become an even more motivated and cooperative partner in the teaching-learning process.

References
American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Appleby, D. C. (2001, Spring). The covert curriculum: Lifelong learning skills you can learn in college. Eye on Psi Chi, 5, 28-31, 34.

Appleby, D. C. (2002). The teaching-advising connection. In S. F. Davis & W. Buskist (Eds.), The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer (pp. 121-139). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bloom, B. S., Englehart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I. Cognitive domain. New York: McKay.

Brewer, C. L. (1993) Curriculum. In T. V. McGovern (Ed.), Handbook for enhancing undergraduate education in psychology (pp. 161-182). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Holden, G., Barker, K., Meenaghan, T., & Rosenberg, G. (1999). Research self-efficacy: A new possibility for educational outcomes assessment. Journal of Social Work Education, 35, 463-476.

Kremer, J. F., Brown, J. N., Rings, S. L., & Buccini, L. D. (2003). Introductory psychology: Psychology as a social science (13th ed.). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Young, J. R. (1997). Rethinking the role of the professor in an age of high-tech tools [Electronic version]. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved February 13, 2003, from http://chronicle.com/colloquy/97/unbundle/background.htm



Drew Appleby, PhD, received his BA in psychology from Simpson College in 1969 and his PhD in experimental psychology from Iowa State University in 1972. He currently serves as Director of Undergraduate Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He is the author of The Handbook of Psychology (1997, Longman), has numerous publications in professional journals, and has made over 250 presentations before a variety of both professional and nonprofessional audiences. His most recently published book is entitled The Savvy Psychology Major (2002, Kendall/Hunt).

Dr. Appleby is a Fellow of both Division One (General Psychology) and Division Two (Teaching of Psychology) of APA. He received Division Two's Outstanding Psychology Teacher Award in a Four-Year College or University in 1993, the Marian College Teaching Excellence Award in 1993, and the IUPUI Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003, and was chosen by APA to present its G. Stanley Hall Teaching Lecture in 1998. He was recognized for his advising skills by the National Academic Advising Association when he received the Outstanding Adviser Award of its Great Lakes Region in 1988 and for his mentoring skills by being the recipient of IUPUI's Psi Chi Mentor of the Year Award in 2000. He serves as the director of Division Two's Mentoring Service and has been a consultant to other psychology departments.

Copyright 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



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