Improving Contextual Learning Opportunities for Counseling Psychology Students’ Learning About Assessment
Nancy Murdock, Jacob Marszalek, and Carolyn Barber
Division of Counseling and Educational Psychology
Contextual learning is the occurrence of knowledge construction and skill development within real-life activities. In higher education generally, and in counseling psychology specifically, contextual learning can serve as a necessary bridge between what is learned in the classroom and what students will be expected to do in working life (Granello, 2000; Tynjälä, Välimaa, & Sarja, 2003). By incorporating contextual learning opportunities into coursework, instructors provide students with opportunities to develop specific competencies expected from each class. One example is CPCE 5609 (Assessment II: Intellectual and Cognitive Assessment), which requires students to conduct assessments with volunteers in a rigorously standardized manner. Administration depends on premade kits, and interpretation depends on normative tables not publicly available. Money is a limiting factor in providing access to these kits, however, because of their high cost. The purpose of our TEG was to provide additional resources to students in our Counseling Psychology PhD program who are conducting practice assessments in CPCE 5609. It was our hope that providing additional test kits would reduce student concerns that a perceived lack of resources is negatively influencing learning. We were also interested in examining students’ attitudes toward contextual learning more generally, but did not anticipate a difference between cohorts.
Prior to the TEG, we solicited baseline data on attitudes toward assessment and access to materials from nine Counseling Psychology students who enrolled in CPCE 5609 in Fall 2009. Then, with TEG funds, we purchased three Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IV kit (WAIS-IV) kits that were made available to CPCE 5609 students in Fall 2010. After the completion of the semester, we solicited additional feedback from this new cohort of five Counseling Psychology students. Four students from each semester responded to the survey (45% from Fall 2009; 80% from Fall 2010).
Students in both sections agreed (some strongly) that understanding assessment was important to their future careers as psychologists (average score = 4.38/5). Students also agreed that they learn best when applying concepts to real-world situations (average score = 4.5/5). More specifically, students felt that applying class concepts to real-world activities was interesting, provided “real” and concrete knowledge of assessment, and facilitated learning of class material at a deep level.
Students in the two cohorts differed when asked if they had adequate materials to conduct assessments. The Fall 2009 cohort disagreed (some strongly) that access to resources was adequate (average score = 1.75/5). Students reported that the lack of resources added additional time constraints that made conducting assessments (and learning from them) difficult. To contrast, the average score for respondents from the Fall 2010 cohort was higher (3.50/5). Half of respondents from the Fall 2010 cohort “agreed” that their access was adequate; however, even these students perceived difficulties. Some respondents, for example, were concerned that resources would not be adequate for a larger class. Compared to the Fall 2009 cohort, though, concerns over access were generally more muted. The difference between cohorts was statistically significant at the .10 level.
Despite this difference between cohorts in perceived availability of resources, both cohorts agreed that access to resources had an impact on learning (average score = 4.25/5). Students in both cohorts felt that their time with assessment kits was limited, and that this negatively influenced their learning. It should be noted that some respondents in Fall 2010 focused on the availability of the Weschler Memory Scale (WMS), which is also required for CPCE 5609 but not purchased with TEG funds.
Overall, students’ responses demonstrated to us that they appreciate opportunities to apply classroom concepts to real-world situations. While Counseling Psychology students most commonly gain such experiences in practica (Granello, 2000), there is also a need to have these experiences available in coursework as knowledge bases and skill sets are initially being developed. From this, we assert that providing contextual learning opportunities earlier in students’ training is a worthwhile endeavor. However, there are many limitations to providing such opportunities to students in our program. Even with additional course materials, students reported that the realities of having to share assessment kits limited their ability to learn from their experiences. Further, although our TEG funding was able to provide additional WAIS-IV kits, we were unable to purchase WMS kits. From this we learned that it takes a considerable amount of resources to provide the adequate breadth (access to both WAIS and WMS kits) and depth (adequate time) for students to benefit fully from contextual learning. We will continue to search for additional sources of funding to provide more materials for our students to access.
Granello, D. H. (2000). Contextual teaching and learning in counselor education. Counselor Education and Supervision, 39(4), 270-283.
Tynjälä, P., Välimaa, J., & Sarja A. (2003). Pedagogical perspectives on the relationship between higher education and working life. Higher Education, 46(2), 147-166.