The Impact of Non-Academic Involvement on Higher Order Thinking Skills

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Virginia Tech

External and internal stakeholders in higher education are asking for accountability about what takes place in the classroom (Alexander, Clinton, and Kean, 1986; Hart Research Associates, 2010; Spellings, 2006). They want to be assured that the learning institutions claim is occurring on campus is in fact happening (Alexander, 2000). In response, academic leaders have produced information about active learning strategies in classrooms (Seifert, Pascarella, Wolniak, and Cruce, 2006; Tsui, 2002; Umbach and Wawrzynski, 2005), student approaches to learning (Biggs, Kember, and Leung, 2001), and faculty-student interaction that lead to increased use of higher order thinking skills (Kuh, 1995; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991; Reason, Terenzini and Domingo, 2007).

Although there is extensive literature on learning that occurs in academic settings on college campuses, data on whether students are engaging in higher order thinking skills in non-academic settings are less prevalent. This study sought to understand whether students' higher order thinking skills (HOTs) are influenced by their involvement in non-academic activities (NAIs).

I analyzed data from college seniors who completed the 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to address two questions. First, I explored what factors emerged from the items about non-academic involvement (NAI) on the NSSE. Second, multiple regression models were employed to determine the extent to which variance in HOTs could be explained by these NAI factors.

There were 14 items on the 2010 NSSE that, based on literature, measured frequency with which students engaged in NAIs. Exploratory factor analysis revealed two independent factors consisting of 7 items: Relationships (3 items) and Diverse Perspectives (4 items). These two factors explained 21% of variance in students' higher order thinking skills. Students who are exposed to diversity and develop close relationships use HOT skills more frequently. This suggests implications for those who work in admissions, student affairs, and human resources, among others. The findings also inform policies related to promotion and tenure as well as student involvement.

non-academic student involvement, higher order thinking skills, relationships, diverse perspectives