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Research and Evaluation


James H. McMillan: Research in Education: A Conceptual Introduction (5th Edition)

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Folder: Efficacy


Self-efficacy, one's self-judgments of personal capabilities to initiate and successfully perform specified tasks at designated levels, expend greater effort, and persevere in the face of adversity (Bandura, 1977; 1986), is a relatively new construct in academic research (Multon, Brown, & Lent, 1991; Schunk, 1991a, 1994). Although self-efficacy is examined with much greater depth in therapeutic contexts, recent studies show that self-efficacy holds significant power for predicting and explaining academic performance in various domains (Lent, Brown & Larkin, 1986; Marsh, Walker, & Debus, 1991; Schunk, 1989a; Schunk, 1994; Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992).

Psychologists often use an ip camera to observe the participants in their study.

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Academic Domains   dot   Social Cognitive Theory   dot   The General Problem   dot   Background of the Problem   dot   Self-evaluation and Mathematics Performance   dot   Theoretical Framework   dot   Sources of Self-Efficacy Information   dot   Perceived Self-Efficacy and Performance   dot   The Role of Self-Efficacy in Academic Domains   dot   Research from the Social Cognitive Perspective   dot   Personal Capabilities   dot   Summary

Academic Domains

Academic domains in which perceived self-efficacy receives considerable attention include specific situations of technological/computer literacy (Delcourt & Kinzie, 1993; Ertmer, Evenbeck, Cennamo, & Lehman, 1994; Murphy, Coover, & Owen, 1989), writing (Pajares & Johnson, 1994; Pajares & Johnson, 1995), choice of academic major (Hackett, 1985; Lent, Brown, & Larkin, 1993), teacher preparation (Ashton & Webb, 1986), and mathematics learning (Hackett & Betz, 1989; Norwich, 1987; Pajares & Kranzler, 1995; Pajares & Miller, 1995; Randhawa, Beamer, & Lundberg, 1993). Additionally, Albert Bandura (1977; 1986), cautions that while self-efficacy is domain-specific, it is also task- and situation-specific; that is, percepts of efficacy pertain to criterial tasks and situations in which they are studied. This perspective enables researchers to gain a deeper understanding of the interactive relationship between self-efficacy and performance.

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Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory is the overarching theoretical framework of the self-efficacy construct (Bandura, 1986). Within this perspective, one's behavior is constantly under reciprocal influence from cognitive (and other personal factors such as motivation) and environmental influences. Bandura calls this three-way interaction of behavior, cognitive factors, and environmental situations the "triadic reciprocality." Applied to an instructional design perspective, students' academic performances (behavioral factors) are influenced by how learners themselves are affected (cognitive factors) by instructional strategies (environmental factors), which in turn builds on itself in cyclical fashion.

The methods for changing students' percepts of efficacy, according to Bandura (1977, 1986), are categorically subsumed under four sources of efficacy information that interact with human nature: (1) enactive attainment, (2) vicarious experience, (3) persuasory information, and (4) and physiological state.

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The General Problem

Even average-ability students are sometimes known to do poorly in specific subject areas while performing up to standard in others. This phenomena is often reflected in the domain of mathematics. The reasons for this phenomenon no doubt reflects the multivariate nature of school learning. We must also take into account the idiosyncratic nature of diverse learners. When capable learners do not perform up to their potential despite positive environmental conditions, we must give more attention to the self-regulatory processes within individuals that promote or inhibit performance. From the social-cognitive view, self-efficacy is an important factor that resides within the learner and mediates between cognition and affect, and results in changes in academic performance (Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992). The growth and reduction of self-efficacy is influenced over time by social comparison with peers and is therefore more pronounced as one grows older.

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Background of the Problem

Gender and Self-Efficacy. By the time children reach middle school (grades six through eight), the majority of them have made significant judgments regarding their preferences toward certain academic domains. These judgments are no doubt influenced by their perceived capability with regard to the domains, as a result of social comparison with peers and feedback from teachers. This is particularly true in the domain of mathematics. At this stage, children are already making decisions leading to career directions and choice of classes. By high school, these decisions become more solidified. For educators, the critical time to reduce or prevent mathematics alienation is in middle school, or early on in high school.

Elementary school children usually have greater confidence in their academic capabilities, and this confidence extends equally across gender to both verbal and mathematical domains of learning. In later years, however, gender differences regarding mathematics begin to emerge. Fennema and Sherman (1978) found that there were no significant differences with gender and mathematics learning, nor with gender and motivation for learning, for 1,300 middle school children. There were, however, significant effects on mathematics confidence and on perceptions of mathematics as a male domain, with boys reportedly averaging higher on both variables. When these results are compared to previous research by the same authors, using the same design but with high school students (Sherman and Fennema, 1977) the overall results indicate that the gender gap on mathematics confidence and perceptions begins to widen in middle school and increasingly widens in high school. Although these studies did not measure self-efficacy, per se, the significant variables of confidence and gender stereotyping of a domain are contributing sources of self-efficacy information.

Expectations about doing well in mathematics (confidence) relates closely to one's beliefs about personal capabilities for successfully performing domain-specific tasks (self-efficacy). Nonetheless, one can maintain high mathematics self-confidence in general, but low mathematics self-efficacy with regard to specific tasks such as mental computation of fractions. Likewise, gender stereotyping of the mathematics domain may raise or reduce one's expectations for overall success in the domain, but it does not determine precisely one's beliefs for accurately solving particular mathematics problems. The interacting perceptual influences of confidence and gender stereotyping are influential sources of self-efficacy information, but not determinants of beliefs about capabilities with regard to specific tasks. Therefore, it is reasonable to examine the effect of gender on mathematics self-efficacy with regard to task-specific performance objectives.

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Self-evaluation and Mathematics Performance

Self-evaluation and Mathematics Performance. Children make judgments about their mathematical capabilities based on accumulating knowledge and experience. They tend to see themselves as either mathematically inclined or disinclined. These perceptions of mathematics efficacy are shaped by an unlimited array of personal, environmental, and behavioral factors. In the academic milieu, learners make judgments about their capabilities based on comparisons of performance with peers (Brown & Inouye, 1978; Schunk, 1987; Schunk & Hanson, 1985; Schunk, Hanson, & Cox, 1987), successful and unsuccessful outcomes on standardized and authentic measures, and feedback from others such as teachers (Bouffard-Bouchard, 1989; Schunk & Rice, 1987), parents, and peers. These sources of information about their capabilities accumulate within individuals to form perceptions of mathematical competencies. But these judgments are fluid in that they are altered along the way according to new experiences and knowledge. Students whose perceptions of their capabilities are high often go on to challenge themselves, persevere in the face of difficulties, and expend greater effort resulting in more successful experiences. Self-doubters on the other hand often resign early in the face of difficulty, and/or avoid the subject altogether to preserve self-worth (Bandura, 1986; Brown & Inouye, 1978). A challenge to educators, therefore, is to adopt instructional interventions that not only make content more understandable, but also increase the likelihood that learners will perceive their capabilities as sufficient to the task.

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Theoretical Framework

Social Cognitive Theory provides a framework for explaining how personalization and modeling are used to enhance the capabilities of human learning. Self-efficacy is a major construct of this theory.


Bandura (1977), sought to address the related question of what mediates knowledge and action beginning with his seminal work on self-efficacy. Bandura (1986, p. 391) defines the performance component of self-efficacy as

people's judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances. It is not concerned with the strategies one has but with judgments of what one can do with whatever strategies one possesses.

Students feel self-efficacious when they are able to picture themselves succeeding in challenging situations, which in turn determines their level of effort toward the task (Paris & Byrnes, 1989; Salomon, 1983; 1984).

Bandura (Bandura 1977, 1986) asserts that self-percepts of efficacy highly influence whether students believe they have the coping strategies to successfully deal with challenging situations. One's self-efficacy may also determine whether learners choose to engage themselves in a given activity and may determine the amount of effort learners invest in a given academic task, provided the source and requisite task is perceived as challenging (Salomon, 1983, 1984).

Several researchers have since investigated the relationship of self-efficacy to learning and academic achievement, but research in the area of academic performance is still developing (Lent, Brown, & Larkin, 1986; Multon, Brown & Lent, 1991; Schunk, 1994). One challenge to instructional technologists, therefore, is to investigate new methods of raising learners' levels of self-efficacy and academic performance through the use of appropriate technological innovations.

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Sources of Self-Efficacy Information

Sources of Self-Efficacy Information;. People make judgments about their capabilities‹accurate or not‹based on enactive experience, vicarious experience (observation), persuasory information, and physiological states. In school, children gain knowledge and experiences through experiential activities. They also gain information based on seeing how peers they judge to be similar to themselves perform at various levels and under given circumstances. They also are told by teachers, peers, family and others about their expected capabilities. Children give themselves physiological feedback about their capabilities through symptoms such as soreness or sweating. These sources of efficacy information are not mutually exclusive, but interact in the overall process of self-evaluation.

Bandura, Adams, & Beyer (1977) advise that enactive experience is a highly influential source of efficacy information. Successful experiences raise self-efficacy with regard to the target performance while experiences with failure lower it.

Another source of efficacy information is vicarious experience through observation. Observing peers, or peer models, especially those with perceived similar capabilities, perform target performances results in evaluative information about one's personal capabilities.

Verbal persuasion or convincing serves as another source of efficacy information. Teachers, for example, can raise or inhibit students' percepts of efficacy by suggesting whether or not they have the capabilities to succeed in a given task (Bouffard-Bouchard, 1989). Models can also be used to demonstrate to self-doubters that personal capabilities are more often a result of effort rather than innate capability.

Students often have physical reactions to anticipated events. Many a public speaker testifies to sweaty palms and nervous vocal reactions when performing a speech. These physiological indicators are sources of self-efficacy information as well.

Social cognitive theory postulates that the aforementioned sources of selfefficacy information are the most influential determinants of performance.

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Perceived Self-Efficacy and Performance

Perceived Self-Efficacy and Performance;. Early studies by Bandura and colleagues focused on selfefficacy in therapeutic contexts, such as investigating training methods to enhance patient self-efficacy and reciprocal coping behaviors in phobic situations (Bandura & Adams, 1977; Bandura, Adams & Beyer, 1977). It is only in the 1980s that self-efficacy pertaining to academic performance began to be investigated with great depth. To understand how this extension of self-efficacy and performance unfolded from clinical situations to academic situations, we can look back at one exemplar case.

Bandura and colleagues (Bandura, Adams, & Beyer, 1977) administered a multi-level treatment program for snake phobics. Participants in this case were assigned to a control condition in which they received assessment but no treatment, or one of two treatment conditions. In the treatment conditions, the phobics either participated with or observed a therapist in a fearful situation with snakes.

On one level, participant-modeling, participants first observed a therapist dealing with snakes then gradually participated in longer time intervals with a therapist in various activities. In a second treatment condition, participants only observed a therapist modeling the requisite coping performances. Results of this study showed that participant-modeling significantly improved the participants' self-efficacy for coping with snakes, while controls reported no change. The second treatment group, who only observed, also reported improved self-efficacy. But the real test of the treatment effectiveness would be measured by correspondence between levels of posttest self-efficacy and the criterial performance tasks, which included various approach behaviors ranging from entering a room containing a snake through actually handling a red-tailed boa constrictor.

Correspondence, the positive correlation between judgments of self-efficacy for being able to perform a given task and then performing it, was high (86% to 90%) for all conditions. The implications are that one's self-efficacy for a given situation is changeable through both enactive experience and vicarious observation, and that one's percepts of efficacy are strong predictors and explanations for criterion performances.

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The Role of Self-Efficacy in Academic Domains

In academic domains, the research on self-efficacy is less extensive; however, we are now seeing it being applied to such diverse academic domains as mathematics, computer literacy, writing, inservice teacher training, choice of academic majors, and so on. Many of these studies are correlational and describe how self-efficacy relates to academic outcomes.

Self-efficacy and Academic Performance;. Dale Schunk, presently of Purdue University, is one of the more prolific researchers applying self-efficacy as an academic construct. He and his colleagues often use a research paradigm that goes beyond correlational analysis to include instructional interventions designed to raise learners percepts of efficacy and corresponding performance on criterial tasks. Schunk's treatments to influence self-efficacy include variations on modeling, attributions of success or failure, and goal-setting. Some of his studies that focused on peer modeling as a source of efficacy information (see Schunk, 1987 for a review) are related to the framework of the present study and are therefore detailed in Chapter Two, "Review of Related Research." Other singular studies that employ similar research designs are reviewed as well.

Pajares and colleagues often used advanced statistical procedures to account for the explanatory and predictive variance of self-efficacy in relation to other personal determinants, such as anxiety, academic background, self-confidence, and so on (Pajares & Kranzler, 1995; Pajares & Miller, 1994a; Pajares & Miller, 1994b; Pajares & Miller, 1994c; Pajares & Miller, 1995). Consistently, Pajares and colleagues find that self-efficacy maintains high explanatory and predictive power for mathematics performance.

In one study of 350 college students, Pajares and Miller (1994c) examined the hypothesized mediational role and predictive power of self-efficacy in mathematics problem solving. Using previously validated measures, the researchers ran several mathematics-related independent variables in relation to mathematical problem solving. Results show that self-efficacy held greater predictive power for problem solving success than did mathematics self-concept, background in mathematics, perceived usefulness of mathematics, and gender. The effects of background and gender, however, were significantly related to self-efficacy, supporting Bandura's assertion of the mediational role of self-efficacy on performance. Simply put, background and gender are not independently strong predictors of mathematics performance, but they are influential sources of mathematics self-efficacy which is highly predictive and plays a strong mediational role on performance.

Self-efficacy is a domain-specific construct in academics. Many, including Bandura, argue that it is also task-specific, and attempts to measure self-efficacy at the domain level often result in ambiguous or uninterpretable results (Bandura, 1986; Pajares & Miller, 1994c, 1995). Many of the studies that show self-efficacy to account for lesser variance than other personal determinants often stray from Bandura's prescriptions for a microanalytic strategy. Often these studies assess self-efficacy globally with just a few scale items; that is, they ask participants to report on their confidence or efficacy with regard to a specific academic domain, and not a specific performance task. At this level of self-reporting, it is expected that self-efficacy can not reliably be separated from other personal determinants such as self-concept, anxiety, self-confidence, and background. It thus raises the question of whether one is actually measuring self-efficacy, or more generally measuring attitudes and other common mechanisms toward a given academic domain. Of course, the latter are important in some areas of educational research, but do not always give us sufficient evaluative information for performance on specific, criterial tasks. One possible lens from which to view self-efficacy within the context of instructional technology is to consider one's judgments of personal capabilities to authentically accomplish a specific performance objective. Self-efficacy and performance are inextricably related, and in the domain of mathematics both are often correlated with gender.

Gender Effects;. There is a potential gender effect in mathematics learning and mathematics self-efficacy. As discussed earlier, Fennema and Sherman (1977) and Sherman and Fennema (1978) found that mathematics confidence and gender stereotyping are significant predictors of mathematics performance for middle and high school students.

Studies with college students show that gender influences selfefficacy in mathematics-related actions, such as academic major and career decisions (Hackett, 1985; Lent, Lopez, & Beischke, 1991; Matsui, Ikeda & Ohnishi, 1989; Matsui, Matsui & Ohnishi, 1990). Other studies found that gender is an influential source of efficacy information in modeling (for example, Schunk, Hanson & Cox, 1987; Schunk, 1987). In personalization studies, Murphy and Ross (1990) found gender to be an influential factor in determining mathematics success for eighth graders. Other researchers (Lopez, 1989; Lopez & Sullivan, 1992) found that personalization significantly benefited seventh-grade Hispanic boys in performing mathematics calculations. Together, these lineages of research suggest that gender maintains a significant influence on mathematics self-efficacy.

As the foregoing indicates, a gender effect has often been reported on the dependent variables (mathematics self-efficacy and performance). In separate studies, a gender effect was reported on the independent variable (personalization). The present study further examines the possibility of a gender effect or interaction within a matrix of personalization, mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics performance.

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Research from the Social Cognitive Perspective

This study follows prescriptions for microanalytic research designs as specified by Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1986, p. 422). The instructional design dimensions of the intervention also follow that framework.

An important assumption of Social Cognitive Theory is that personal determinants, such as forethought and self-reflection, do not have to reside unconsciously within individuals. People can consciously change and develop their cognitive functioning. This is important to the proposition that self-efficacy too can be changed, or enhanced. From this perspective, people are capable of influencing their own motivation and performance according to a model of triadic reciprocality in which personal determinants (such as self-efficacy), environmental conditions (such as treatment conditions), and action (such as practice) are mutually interactive influences. Improving performance, therefore, depends on changing some of these influences.

Pedagogically, the challenge is to 1) get the learner to believe in his or her personal capabilities to successfully perform a designated task, 2) provide environmental conditions‹such as instructional strategies and appropriate technology‹that improve the strategies and self-efficacy of the learner, and 3) provide opportunities for the learner to experience successful learning as a result of appropriate action.

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Personal Capabilities

Personal Capabilities;.

Within the model of triadic reciprocality, the ability to influence various personal determinants is accorded to five basic human capabilities: 1) symbolizing, 2) forethought, 3) vicarious, 4) self-regulatory, and 5) self-reflective.

People are generally gifted with the capability of symbolizing. In an academic context, this allows learners to process abstract experiences into models that guide their learning and performance. For example, observing someone on computer or videotape vocalize a computational algorithm for calculating may serve as an adequate instructional representation of performing that procedure. One can learn how to perform the strategy in this manner, and may even gain in self-efficacy by observing a peer model that this procedure is within the scope of one's own capabilities.

Forethought, the cognitive representation of future events, is also a powerful causal influence on one's learning. For example, watching a self-efficacious model perform a mathematical calculation using a particular strategy may lead the observer to foresee this within the scope of his or her own capabilities and consequently expect to perform the procedure with success.

Vicarious capability occurs by observing others and vicariously experiencing what they do. According to Bandura (1986), if we had to directly experience everything we learn, we would not have adequate time and opportunity to learn very much. Observing a model's thinking through text-based soliloquy, for example, can direct the observer on how to conceptualize a mathematics calculation or overcome self-doubts about successful performance.

Students typically self-regulate by determining what capabilities they have with regard to a given task and in effect compare those capabilities against a set of standards they maintain for themselves. Students who believe that they can achieve a high grade in a mathematics course may persist in their efforts to achieve the grade. Conversely, low self-efficacy pertaining to a given task may inhibit one's effort and persistence (Bouffard-Bouchard, 1989).

People compare their performance with that of their peers in various contexts, especially the classroom. The accuracy of their assessments determines whether they overestimate or underestimate their capabilities. Consequently, accurate self-reflection is critical to the development of self-efficacy.

The five basic capabilities discussed above are important guidelines for self-efficacy interventions. In the present study, the instructional story uses symbolic and vicarious modeling to influence self-efficacy and expectations (forethought) of success.

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One's sense of self-efficacy is determined by an array of personal, social, and environmental factors. From the social-cognitive perspective, these factors can be changed not only to influence one's level of self-efficacy, but also subsequent performance on criterial tasks. The personalization of instructional context is predicted to be an effective strategy for raising the learners' percepts of efficacy through the instructional design strategies of enactive experience, vicarious modeling, and persuasory information.

Enactive experience is facilitated by enabling learners to interactively experience what they are learning while they are learning. Vicarious modeling is facilitated by allowing learners to individually select personal referents that reflect the learners' interests, backgrounds, and familiarity with the world. Persuasory information is facilitated by cognitive modeling of characters in the story, who cognitively experience how their percepts of efficacy are raised as they begin to learn and try out mental computation strategies.

Purpose of the Study;

The goals of this study are threefold. One goal is to build upon existing research which show that personalization of instructional context is one way to increase the mathematics performance of learners in computer-based instruction (CBI). A second goal is to investigate whether personalization through character modeling can be used to raise the self-efficacy of CBI learners. The third goal is to test whether personalization may be a facilitating strategy for improving the combined self-efficacy and subsequent performance of CBI learners.

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List FolderContents

  Efficacy Links  
  Efficacy Overviews  
  Efficacy Stories  
  Interventions Enhancing Self-Efficacy  
  Math Self-Efficacy (A-G)  
  Math Self-Efficacy (H-O)  
  Math Self-Efficacy (P-Z)  
  Self-Efficacy (A-G)  
  Self-Efficacy (H-M)  
  Self-Efficacy (N-R)  
  Self-Efficacy (S-Z)  
  Teacher Efficacy (A-E)  
  Teacher Efficacy (F-L)  
  Teacher Efficacy (M-R)  
  Teacher Efficacy (S-Z)  
  Writing Efficacy  

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Updated: Tuesday, February 8, 2005
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