UB "Link" Program Helps Improve Quality of Life For Elderly Persons With Disabilities

Release Date: March 5, 1993 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A popular course in critical thinking in which undergraduate students at the State University of New York at Buffalo analyze their personal learning styles has dramatically and consistently improved the academic performance of those who complete it, even students who start out with failing grades.

A study of 1,649 students who completed the one-semester, three-credit academic course called "Methods of Inquiry" (MOI) after at least one semester of college study showed that 61.9 percent raised their grade-point average (GPA) from .2 to 3.2 points in only one semester.

The number of those in the group with an "A" average (3.699-plus) nearly doubled, from 83 to 163, from the beginning to the end of the semester in which they took the course.

For students in serious academic trouble, the news was even better.

Susan Schapiro, director of the project, said the lower students grades were when they began the course, the greater the percentage of improvement achieved on average. She said that 83.7 percent of those with a GPA of less than "C" at the outset showed a mean gain of 1.12 points in GPA.

At follow-up two semesters later, many students whose GPAs were in the "D" to "C" category before they took the course showed GPAs two grade categories ahead of their starting point.

Schapiro said differences in success rates also showed a positive correlation between a high final grade in the course and increased GPA. Much smaller differences in performance seemed to be correlated with gender, race and major course of study.

The course was developed at UB five years ago through a $235,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. More than 2,800 students have successfully completed the course to date.

It consists of two weekly 50-minute lecture classes in which students analyze learning theories and complete class assignments based on them. There is an additional 30-minute one-on-one collaborative meeting with a peer monitor once a week.

The curriculum is based on two assumptions: that every discipline asks discrete or special questions and has its discrete methodology for answering those questions, and that people already have the ability to think conceptually and do it all the time in everyday life, but need to learn to transfer their critical skills to the academic situation.

"To succeed academically, students need to become aware of themselves as learners," Schapiro said. "They must learn to recognize what they know and don't know and find ways to fill in the gaps."

She said that students immediately engage course strategies by applying them to their other classes. Strategies include generating questions from class notes, reading material in a search for form and purpose, preparing information maps and key-word diagrams, and exploring metaphors and models. Listening, reading and writing to answer questions, as well as self-editing, are taught and monitored.

Participants consistently reported significant post-course improvement in attitude, anxiety levels, motivation, time management, concentration and information-processing strategies.

r The percentage of students who said that good academic performance was a "top priority" increased from 33.4 at the beginning of the course to 51.5 at the end.

r Students increased the number of study hours per week. The percentage who studied fewer than five hours weekly outside of class dropped from 20 to 6, while the percentage of those studying 15 hours or more doubled -- from 15 to 30.8.

r The percentage of students who perceived their academic performance to be "poor" or "failing" dropped from 20.2 to 5.6.

John Thorpe, UB vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of the university's Undergraduate College, said that even before the first research report was compiled several years ago, conventional campus wisdom held that Methods of Inquiry "worked."

"In the eight semesters it's been offered," he added, "every section in the course has been filled to capacity with students representing a heterogeneous cross-section of the university undergraduate population." Improvements have been so significant and student response so positive, he said, that UB faculty who devised the program have presented it to more than 100 colleges and universities nationwide, many of which are now adapting it for their own use.

The course is an elaboration of a program developed in 1983 by Marcia Heiman and Joshua Slomianko as the "Learning to Learn" program. It arose from a study at the University of Michigan that identified learning processes used by successful learners. Their research, which was validated in 1983 by the Joint Dissemination Review Panel of the U.S. Department of Education, showed that dramatic gains in academic achievement resulted from teaching the approach in small classes to at-risk students. The UB studies support the Heiman/Slomianko contention and indicate further that the method can be successful in large classes with students at all levels of performance.

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