The Scando Review
The Scando Review
Importance of student development and course climate in student learning

Importance of student development and course climate in student learning

Part 3

Intellectual development

In the previous episode, we discussed the Chickering model of development. Today, we are going to talk about intellectual development.

Since the 1950s, several studies have been taking place on students’ intellectual development in college. According to researchers, students’ growth is usually propelled by a challenge that reveals the inadequacies of the current stage.

In the earlier stages of development, for example in primary classes, students’ reasoning is characterised by basic duality. This basic duality refers to dividing knowledge easily into right and wrong statements. In this phase, there is no room for ambiguity. At this stage of intellectual development, students believe that knowledge is absolute and passed on to them from teachers and textbooks. Students think their role is to receive and give it back when asked. This is a quantitative view of knowledge. During this period, education is seen as a process of amassing the correct facts. In this stage, students do not recognise different perspectives and are not likely to see discussions as a legitimate way of gaining knowledge.

When students are challenged with sufficient set of questions to which they do not know the answers or with issues for which there are no correct answers, they will move to a stage of multiplicity. Here knowledge becomes a matter of opinions. In this stage, students view evaluation as very subjective. They can become frustrated if their opinion does not score them a good grade. They will also face difficulty in differentiating among opinions. Compared to the earlier stage, the teacher is not seen as an authority but as another perspective. Even though we cannot say that the development in this stage shows a growth forward, two important things happen in this stage. Students become open to differences of opinion, and the learning becomes personal. They are entitled to their opinion and can discuss or disagree with the teacher or the textbook. They begin to construct their knowledge.

After the stage of multiplicity, with enough insistence that opinions need to be justified with evidence, students progress to stages characterised by relativism. This stage marks the shift from a quantitative to a qualitative view of knowledge. In this stage, students realise that all opinions are not equal and that their pros and cons should be evaluated according to specific rules of evidence. Here teachers become guides who provides a good model of how to interact with content critically. Students develop their analytic and critical skills in this stage.

After successfully completing the stage characterised by relativism, students enter into the last set of stages characterised by a sense of commitment. Students realise that even if all theories have pros and cons, they have to commit to one as a foundation to build on and refine it as they go. Students’ intellectual development has completed a full circle here. They now choose one theory over the other. Unlike in the dualistic stage, their choice is nuanced and informed.

Research shows that intellectual development takes time. It cannot be forced and does not happen overnight. According to Marcia B. Baxter Magolda, professor of educational leadership at Miami University, many students leave college in multiplistic stages, and their development towards relativistic and committed stages continues well beyond college.

Even though intellectual development cannot be forced, it can be nurtured by posing appropriate challenges and giving the support necessary to foster intellectual growth. We can discuss the strategies to enhance intellectual development in the coming episodes.

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Happy Teaching!