In this empirical study, we investigate two research questions related to students' attitudes toward statistics in a sample of 3500 first year university students. The first question is inspired by a large body of research that concludes that learning attitudes tend to decline while learning for the subject. Using the SATS attitudes instrument that distinguishes six attitudes factors, Affect, Cognitive Competence, Value, Difficulty, Interest, and Effort, we indeed confirm this downward trend, with the exception of Value. But the downward development is not the same for all students, and using a large set of students' background factors, we investigate what determines these changes. As one might expect, academic performances in the course appear to have a positive impact on attitudes developments, but other effects we find are less intuitive, such as the consistent gender effect in attitudes changes.
A second research question refers the position of the Effort construct in our attitudes model. According the Expectancy*Value theory, the two expectancy factors (Cognitive Competence and Difficulty), together with the three value factors (Affect, Value, Interest), determine outcomes of the learning process, such as learning effort and performances. Students demonstrating high effort levels are hypothesized to be more successful. However, in the SATS model Effort is not the best predictor of success; expectancy factors as Cognitive Competence are much stronger related to course performances. Using the available background data, we demonstrate that the relationship between expectancy and value factors and effort is indeed more complex than the E*V model suggests; the effort construct incorporated in SATS does contain aspects of learning dispositions, such as the preference for a surface learning style, that contaminates with the mechanism of the E*V model.
Keywords: Attitudes; SATS; Expectancy value
Biography: Dirk Tempelaar is senior lecturer at the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics. His research interest is in individual differences in learning statistics.