IT training certification: A look at instructor credibility

One of the certifications that keeps popping up on lists of either valuable or growing IT training certifications is that of the CompTIA CTT+. This is far from the only trainer certification that exists, but I am honing in on it simply because 10% of the Essentials exam (TK0-201) that everyone must pass is focused on “Instructor Credibility and Communications.”

As an experiment, I wanted to see if the age of the student factors into instructor credibility, and decided to measure it based on persuadability. This article details the findings of that study.

Background

What is the best way to measure instructor credibility?The Anderson University Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program is offered in two formats: Professional and Residential. The “professional” program is a 22 month program designed for working professionals. These non-traditional students attend classes one night a week at various locations in the Indianapolis area, being part of a cohort of 10-to-12 other professionals. The “residential” program is for more traditional students, who have recently completed their undergraduate education and want to transition immediately into their graduate studies. Viewed as a single cohort, these students stay in university housing and are able to complete the MBA in one year.

While both groups of students are progressing through the same content, research has shown that “the differences between traditional and nontraditional students support the fact that students cannot be considered one homogenous group” (Wooten, 1998). The most striking difference between the two groups in this experiment is age — the residential students are substantially younger than the professional students. The age range for the residential students was 21 to 25, while the age range for the professional students was between 22 and 53. In both groups, 47 percent of the students were male and 53 percent were female.

MBA students were specifically chosen instead of IT, students in order to remove any bias that could exist in knowledge levels.

The Experiment

This factor of age of students as influencing persuadability of an argument was tested through the use of a series of videos and an evaluation survey taken following each video.

A three-part video series was created describing different ways of evaluating a specific ethical dilemma: that of Amazon.com not collecting sales tax in Indiana. Each cohort viewed the five-minute video clips in the same order, over three separate learning periods, within the framework of the course BSNS 6010: Business and Society. This course is traditionally the first course in the MBA program at Anderson University. In order to minimize instructor bias, a narrator was used who was not the instructor for any of the cohorts. The videos used in this experiment can be viewed online:

 

Immediately after viewing each of the three videos, students completed a short survey describing their perception of the strength of the arguments given. Each survey consisted of four seven-point Likert-type scale items on the persuasiveness of the content based on a scale created by Gürhan-Canli and Maheswaran (2000). Reliability of the scale had alphas ranging from .82 to .93 in previous studies.

The Results

A seven-point scale was used to assess the persuasiveness of the argument in each video in four categories of comparison: very weak/very strong, not very convincing/very convincing, not very powerful/very powerful, and not very persuasive/very persuasive. An independent-sample t-test was conducted to compare the strength of argument scores for the residential and professional MBA students after they watched the first video. For the weak/strong item, there was no significant difference in scores for residential (M = 4.89, SD = 1.177) and professional students (M = 5.42, SD = 1.100); t(55) = 1.625, p = .110 (two-tailed). There was, however, a statistically significant difference for the other three items, as Table 1 illustrates:

ScaleGroupMSDt(55)P
not very convincing/very convincingResidential4.531.1722.534.014
Professional5.391.242
not very powerful/very powerfulResidential4.00.7453.155.003
Professional4.841.263
not very persuasive/very persuasiveResidential4.421.1212.207.032
Professional5.161.220

TABLE 1: Statistically significant items for night one.

For the second video, an independent-sample t-test was also conducted to compare the strength of argument scores for the residential and professional MBA students. For the weak/strong item, there was no significant difference in scores for residential (M = 4.74, SD = .991) and professional students (M = 5.23, SD = 1.250); t(57) = 1.491, p = .141 (two-tailed). Similarly, there was no significant difference in scores measuring the convincingness of the argument for residential (M = 4.79, SD = .976) and professional students (M = 5.30, SD = 1.285); t(57) = 1.532, p = .131 (two-tailed). There was, however, a statistically significant difference for the other two items, as Table 2 illustrates:

ScaleGroupMSDt(57)P
not very powerful/very powerfulResidential4.161.0152.167.034
Professional4.901.317
not very persuasive/very persuasiveResidential4.471.2192.039.046
Professional5.201.305

TABLE 2: Statistically significant items for night two.

For the third video, an independent-sample t-test was conducted to compare the strength of argument scores for the residential and professional MBA students. There was no significant difference in scores related to the weak/strong item for residential (M = 4.95, SD = 1.682) and professional students (M = 5.56, SD = 1.014); t(49) = 1.634, p = .109 (two-tailed). Again, there was no significant different in scores measuring the convincingness of the argument for residential (M = 4.79, SD = 1.619) and professional students (M = 5.44, SD = .982); t(49) = 1.785, p = .081 (two-tailed). This time, there was no significant difference in scores measuring the powerfulness of the argument for residential (M = 4.47, SD = 1.467) and professional students (M = 5.19, SD = 1.120); t(49) = 1.958, p = .056 (two-tailed). There was, however, still a statistically significant difference for the remaining item, as Table 3 illustrates:

ScaleGroupMSDt(49)P
not very persuasive/very persuasiveResidential4.531.6452.060.045
Professional5.331.181

TABLE 3: Statistically significant item for night three.

In all instances, the professional students scored the videos higher than the residential students — finding them to be stronger, more convincing, more powerful and more persuasive. Table 4 shows the median scores for both groups in which there were statistically significant differences. The first number shown in each cell is the median for the professional students, with the second number being that for the residential students.

StrongConvincingPowerfulPersuasive
Night One5.39 / 4.534.84 / 4.00 5.16 / 4.42
Night Two4.90 / 4.165.20 / 4.47
Night Three5.33 / 4.53

TABLE 4: Statistically significant median differences between the professional and residential groups.

It is interesting to note that with each night, the median score for each of the groups increases. This would suggest that, regardless of where they begin, the more they hear the message (there is some repetition between the videos), the more they come to find it convincing, powerful and persuasive. Motivation may also be a factor, with older students more motivated to learn the content as quickly as possible (Dulaney, 2013). This is affirmed at the undergraduate level (Bye, Puschkar, and Conway (2007), but as Hegarty implies, limited research exists on graduate student motivation and “there is an absence of measurement of motivation in graduate students in general” (Hegarty, 2011).

Tied to the motivation difference associated with non-traditional students, another factor influencing non-traditional students learning, as described by Justin and Dornan (2013), is that metacognitive differences exist, as older students utilize higher-level study strategies. This may be the result of the longer time frame between the videos for the professional students, allowing more time to reflect on the argument.

Younger Students

Since the analysis of the survey results indicated that student age was a factor in the evaluation of the videos with the graduate students, a second experiment was conducted. Only the first video in the series was shown to a group of undergraduate students enrolled in the first course for students beginning business studies. The average age of the students was 19.1 and gender composition closely mirrored that of the other groups (professional and residential MBA students).

An independent-sample t-test was conducted to compare the scores for the undergraduate and graduate students after they watched the video. There was a statistically significant difference for every one of the four items, as Table 5 illustrates:

ScaleGroupMSDt(99)P
very weak/very strongUndergraduate4.261.153.40.001
Graduate5.241.13
not very convincing/very convincingUndergraduate4.261.102.95.004
Graduate5.161.21
not very powerful/very powerfulUndergraduate3.631.343.27.001
Graduate4.631.17
not very persuasive/very persuasiveUndergraduate4.051.273.04.003
Graduate4.981.18

TABLE 5: Differences between survey items for the ethics video.

Figure 6 shows the median scores for the first video for all three groups on each of the survey items and illustrates the findings: on every item, the younger the student, the lower the extent to which they found the content to be meaningful.

StrongConvincingPowerfulPersuasive
Older Graduate Students5.425.394.84 5.16
Younger Graduate Students4.894.534.004.42
Undergraduate Students4.264.263.634.05

TABLE 6: Median scores on the first video for each of the groups.

Implications

In the normal classroom, there is a great quantity of content that is disseminated and shared. If younger students are not finding the content as meaningful (strong, convincing, powerful, and persuasive) as older students, then it is important for faculty to address the concerns students have and put the content in the proper perspective for all students. One method of so doing is through repetition — the more the students hear the message, the more all groups come to evaluate it the same.

One possible explanation for younger students finding the content less meaningful than other groups of students may be their lack of real-world experience on which to base what they are learning. This can be particularly true when dealing with groups of graduate students who have entered the program directly from their undergraduate programs as opposed to those who have been out of school for a considerable amount of time working in their professions. “Adult learners with life experience are positioned for meaning-making.” Outlining expectations and opening discussions about differences in opinion about key content can assuage differences between faculty expectations and what the students believe. Benton suggests students “will rise to high expectations if teachers are firm and resist sending mixed messages” (Benton, 2006).

References

Benton, T.H. (6/9/2006). A tough-love manifesto for professors. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 52, Issue 40, p. C1.

Bye, D., Pushkar, D., & Conway, M. (2007). Motivation, Interest, and Positive Affect in Traditional and Nontraditional Undergraduate Students. Adult Education Quarterly, 57(2) 141-158. Dulaney, E. (2013). Does the Credibility of the Presenter Influence Acceptance of Content in the Classroom. American International Journal of Social Science, 2(4), 1-7.

Hegarty, N. (2011). Adult Learners as Graduate Students: Underlying Motivation Completing Graduate Programs. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 59(3), 146-151.

Justice, Elaine & Dornan, Teresa (2013). Metacognitive Differences between Traditional-Age and Nontraditional-age College Students. Adult Education Quarterly, 51(3), 236-249

Luna, G., & Cullen, D. (2011). Podcasting as Complements to Graduate Teaching: Does it Accommodate Adult Learning Theories? International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23(1), 40-47.

Wooten, Thomas, (1998). Factors Influencing Student Learning in Introductory Accounting Classes: A Comparison of Traditional and Nontraditional Students. Issues in Accounting Education, 13(2), 354-373

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Emmett Dulaney

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emmett Dulaney is an associate professor and the author of numerous certification study guides, including the forthcoming CompTIA Security+ Study Guide: SY0-401 (ISBN: 978-1118875070).

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