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Establishing StrengthsFinder Norms for Veterinary Medical Students

Kenneth D. Royal , Betsy Taylor, Rivers Baker, Jeffrey Huckel, Keven Flammer
American Journal of Educational Research. 2018, 6(2), 152-157. DOI: 10.12691/education-6-2-11
Published online: March 06, 2018

Abstract

The Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 is an online assessment administered by the Gallup organization. The assessment is intended to help individuals identify their greatest talents, and once identified, use that information to further develop one’s predominant strengths. Colleges and universities routinely administer the StrengthsFinder to students, but to date there is sparse literature presenting any results. Interestingly, academic disciplinary differences has been identified as the single most differentiating factor regarding members of an academic community. This is due to the strong influence of disciplinary norms, cultures and values that both attract individuals to a community and sustain members once a part of the community. Thus, the use of a standardized assessment with well-evidenced psychometric properties could be particularly useful for making comparisons about students’ attributes across these communities. This study sought to create a new line of research inquiry by exploring StrengthsFinder results and establishing an initial set of norms for students in the field of veterinary medicine. Substantive results found veterinary students’ most predominant strengths were Achiever and Learner, followed by Restorative, Input, Relator, Harmony and Responsibility. The five least common Signature Themes were Self-Assurance, Connectedness, Activator, Command, and Maximizer. Results from this study may be used to compare and contrast students’ predominant strengths and talents in other programs, particularly those in the medical and health professions.

1. Introduction

The Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 is an online assessment administered by the Gallup organization. Once identified, these talents can then be further developed and applied to achieve success. The StrengthsFinder was developed by Donald Clifton, an educational psychologist who also served as the chairman of the Gallup Organization. The StrengthsFinder tool is rooted in positive psychology 1 and is based on ‘strength theory’, which suggests individuals benefit more by exerting energies to improve existing strengths rather than attempting to improve weaknesses 2. To date, the StrengthsFinder has been administered to more than 16 million individuals worldwide 3.

The assessment is intended to help individuals identify their greatest talents, and once identified, use that information to further development one’s predominant strengths. The assessment, however, is not intended to be used as a screening tool for selection decisions (e.g., employment, college admissions, etc.). The reasoning is because the talents identified by the assessment are not necessarily any more/less important or desirable than any other.

The StrengthsFinder assessment is particularly relevant to education as it is routinely administered to students in colleges and universities. Yet despite its prevalent use in education, there is a conspicuous absence of published literature involving the StrengthsFinder. This sparse literature base is concerning given higher education research literature has long noted the strong influence of disciplinary norms, cultures and values. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 More specifically, researchers have noted the distinct norms and values associated with a discipline not only attract like-minded individuals, but also socializes these individuals to embrace these disciplinary norms 9. Ladd and Lipset 7 noted:

“A discipline’s subject matter requires a bundle of professional work experience, defines the group’s interests which serve as points of reference and association, and seems to attract people of particular value orientation; together these factors contribute to the formation of distinctive discipline subcultures. And once formed, such subcultures apparently become more than the sum of their contributing parts. A set of characteristics, styles, concerns, values, traditions, and general orientation to the social and political world takes shape, and members of the discipline are in intellectual contact with it throughout their professional lives” (p. 69).

Seminal texts by Angelo and Cross 10 and Smart and colleagues 9 also declared academic disciplinary affiliation as the single most important factor in explaining differences among college and university faculty. Even for related disciplines such as the medical and health professions where educational curricula, including both content and course structure (e.g., student cohort model, team-taught courses, primarily didactic courses), are similar, the students enrolled in these programs often vary considerably across programs with respect to psychological traits (e.g., empathy, assertiveness, confidence) and values (patient care, job prestige, social status). Thus, a lack of literature exploring factors such as the most prevalent strengths of students enrolled in these academic programs by way of a standardized metric limit our ability to understand how students truly differ across disciplines.

Thus, the objectives of this study were threefold: First, we sought to create a new avenue of research that explores StrengthsFinder results as it pertains to college students across a variety of academic disciplines. Second, we sought to identify the most prevalent strengths among students in our discipline of veterinary medicine. Third, we sought to establish a set of norms that researchers across other disciplines (but particularly those in the medical and health professions) could use to determine how students enrolled in various disciplinary programs compare to veterinary medical students, and ultimately one another, with respect to their primary strengths as identified by the StrengthsFinder assessment.

2. Methods

2.1. Participants and Setting

All incoming veterinary medical students for years 2015, 2016 and 2017 were administered the StrengthsFinder prior to students’ orientation and all 302 students completed the assessment. With respect to gender, 240 identified as female and 62 identified as male. With respect to race/ethnicity, 224 (74.2%) students identified as White, 18 (6.0%) as Asian, 17 (5.6%) as Black, 38 (12.6%) identified as a member of 11 different minority categories, and 5 (1.7%) did not specify. The institution’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) declared the study ‘Exempt’.

2.2. Instrumentation

The StrengthsFinder measures the presence of talent using 34 distinct themes. Participants completing the StrengthsFinder are given 20 seconds to answer each of the 177 items, and the entire assessment is completed in less than 30 minutes. A visual analog scale accompanies each item and participants select one of five potential options. Upon completion of the assessment, participants are made aware of their top five “Signature Themes”. Because the StrengthsFinder is intended to be used for intrapersonal development purposes, feedback regarding each theme is presented to participants.

The psychometric properties of the StrengthsFinder are well-documented and an extensive list of references is available in the most recent technical report. 11 A particularly noteworthy study was conducted by the Gallup Organization 11 in which the test-retest reliability of the results were assessed. The study involved a nationally-representative sample of 1,304 participants who completed the assessment at two points in time. Participants were not made aware of their ‘Signature Themes’ after the initial assessment in order to minimize error due to potential carry-over effects. Results indicated participants received similar themes one month (n = 538), three months (n = 390) and six months (n = 376) after the initial assessment.

2.3. Analysis

StrengthsFinder results present only the top 5 themes for each participant. Each theme is a nominal level of measurement and presented in a descending order of magnitude. Data were analyzed utilizing two approaches. First, overall counts and percents were calculated for each theme identified in each student’s record. Second, because themes are presented in order a weighted composite score and percentage was calculated to reflect the influence of thematic order. The weighting schema consisted of assigning 5 points to the top theme, 4 points to the second theme, and so on.

3. Results

All incoming veterinary students completed the StrengthsFinder in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Two of the thirty-four Signature Themes were discernible in more than half of the sample. More specifically, 187 (61.92%) students had the ‘Achiever’ theme, and 159 (52.65%) had the ‘Learner’ theme. The next most common themes were ‘Restorative’ with 90 (29.80%), ‘Input’ with 87 (28.81%), ‘Relator’ with 78 (25.83%), ‘Harmony with 72 (23.84%) and ‘Responsibility’ with 68 (22.52%). The five least common Signature Themes were ‘Self-Assurance’ with 11 (3.64%), ‘Connectedness’ with 12 (3.97%), ‘Activator’ with 13 (4.30%), ‘Command’ with 14 (4.64%), and ‘Maximizer’ with 15 (4.97). A complete breakdown of results is presented in Table 1.

Results were also inspected by class year (see Table 2). Statistical comparisons across years were not possible because techniques such as a chi-squared analysis would result in a statistical violation given the excessive number of cells with counts less than 5. Nonetheless, a visual inspection of data is helpful and tends to illustrate a great deal of consistency across class cohorts.

4. Discussion

With respect to substantive findings, 2 of the 34 Signature Themes were discernible in more than half of the sample. The ‘Achiever’ theme was the most common strength (61.92%). According to the StrengthsFinder technical report, “people especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive”. 11 The other most common strength was ‘Learner with 52.65%. The Learner “… has a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them”. 11 Given most all students seeking terminal degrees in medical and health professions programs have excellent academic credentials, it is not surprising that this population of students largely are Achievers and Learners. It would be interesting to know if other health professions programs identify similar prevalent themes, and perhaps if students’ age or other factors tend to result in different top strengths.

‘Restorative’ (29.80%), ‘Input’ (28.81%), ‘Relator’ (25.83%), ‘Harmony’ (23.84%), and ‘Responsibility’ (22.52%) were the other most prevalent themes. According to the StrengthsFinder report 11: Restorative individuals “are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it”; Input individuals “have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.”; Relator individuals “enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.”; Harmony individuals “look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.”; and Responsibility individuals “take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.” Collectively, these relatively common top strengths suggest veterinary students generally are adept problem solvers that value honesty, loyalty and relationships with peers and desire harmonious relationships with everyone. Given various academic disciplines tend to exhibit their own unique disciplinary norms, cultures and values, 4, 7 it would be interesting to learn the degree to which students in other health professions program share these strengths.

The five least common Signature Themes were ‘Self-Assurance’ (3.64%), ‘Connectedness’ (3.97%), ‘Activator’ 13 (4.30%), ‘Command’ 14 (4.64%), and ‘Maximizer’ (4.97). According to the StrengthsFinder report 11: Self-Assurance individuals “feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right.”; Connectedness individuals “have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.”; Activator individuals “can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.”; Command individuals “have presence. They can take control of a situation and make decisions.”; and Maximizer individuals “focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.” As noted previously, the StrengthsFinder identifies only the five greatest themes for participants. Thus, it is important to note that sparsely populated themes does not imply that students are collectively absent of these talents or otherwise weak in these areas. For this reason, inferences made about less prominently identified talents should be made with caution.

The StrengthsFinder is an assessment intended to promote intrapersonal development among the individuals who complete it. For students in a College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) or other health professions program, there may also be opportunities in which a college (or program) can help further realize the goal of intrapersonal development for students. For example, the StrengthsFinder currently is utilized in a Group Communications course at the authors’ institution. In the course, students are arranged in teams and asked to evaluate team members’ strengths, communication styles, etc. Students then are asked to discuss any limitations the team might face based on their composition of strengths and communication styles. Finally, students are asked to develop strategies to overcome any weaknesses and capitalize on the team’s unique strengths. For this exercise, the StrengthsFinder is particularly helpful for both quickly discerning others’ talents given limited team-oriented interactions and offering potentially greater variation of discernible talents for consideration as part of the exercise. One idea that also has been considered but not yet realized is utilizing the StrengthsFinder as a sorting tool for assigning heterogeneous groups. 12

At present, we are unaware of any published literature presenting signature themes among college and university students. To that end, it is our hope that the results presented in this report will serve as a useful benchmark for comparison of students’ signature talents across other academic disciplines, particularly the medical and health profession programs. We suspect that any similarities and differences across student populations may reveal interesting insights about the qualities admissions committees seek, albeit consciously or unconsciously, when selecting talent. 13, 14, 15, 16 Further, comparisons might also reveal insights about the nature of students who are attracted to the various professions, given extant research has long noted that the strong influence of disciplinary norms, cultures and values. 4, 7 Further, given a great deal of medical and health professions education research is dedicated to investigating students’ characteristics (e.g., skills, attitudes and behaviors), we believe comparing StrengthsFinder results may be a particularly powerful approach given the standardized metric and propensity for norms to be produced based on various reference groups (e.g., academic disciplines). Finally, we believe there also may be utility in comparing findings of extant research (e.g., students’ attributes, traits, etc.) with predominant themes identified by the StrengthsFinder within a given discipline could also assist with the discernment of convergent and divergent validity evidence. 17

5. Conclusions

In summary, academic disciplinary differences has been identified as the single most differentiating factor regarding members of an academic community. This is due to the strong influence of disciplinary norms, cultures and values that both attract individuals to a community and sustain members once a part of the community. Thus, the use of a standardized assessment with well-evidenced psychometric properties could be particularly useful for making comparisons about students’ attributes as part of these communities. This study sought to create a new line of research inquiry by exploring StrengthsFinder results, a common assessment administered to millions of students worldwide, across academic disciplines. To date, no research has attempted to compare students’ StrengthsFinder results; thus, this work also sought to facilitate this possibility by establishing an initial set of norms for students in the field of veterinary medicine. Substantive results from this study found veterinary students’ most predominant strengths were Achiever and Learner, followed by Restorative, Input, Relator, Harmony and Responsibility. The five least common Signature Themes were Self-Assurance, Connectedness, Activator, Command, and Maximizer. Results from this study may be used to compare and contrast students predominant strengths and talents to students in other programs, particularly those in the medical and health professions.

References

[1]  Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. “Positive psychology: An introduction.” American Psychologist, 55(1): 5-14, 2000.
In article      View Article  PubMed
 
[2]  Clifton, D. O., & Harter, J. K. (2003). “Strengths investment.” In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship. (pp. 111-121). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2003.
In article      
 
[3]  Gallup, Inc. About us. Available at: https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/Home/en-US/About. Accessed on November 20, 2017.
In article      View Article
 
[4]  Alpert, D. “Performance and paralysis: The organizational context American research university.” Journal of Higher Education, 56: 241-81, 1985.
In article      View Article
 
[5]  Becher, T. “Disciplinary shaping of the profession.” In B. R. Clark (Ed.), The academic profession: National, disciplinary, and institutional settings. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1987.
In article      
 
[6]  Clark, B. R. Academic culture. New Haven, CT: Higher Education Research Group, Yale University, 1980.
In article      
 
[7]  Ladd, E. C., & Lipset, S. M. Technical Report: 1975 Survey of the American professorate. Storrs, CT: The University of Connecticut, Social Science Data Center, 1975.
In article      
 
[8]  Lee, J. J. “Comparing institutional relationships with academic departments: A study of five academic fields.” Research in Higher Education, 45(6) 603-624, 2004.
In article      View Article
 
[9]  Smart, J. C., Feldman, K. A., & Ethington, C. A. Academic disciplines: Holland's theory and the study of college students and faculty. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2000.
In article      View Article
 
[10]  Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
In article      PubMed
 
[11]  Asplund, J., Agrawal, S., Hodges, Y., Harter, J., & Lopez, S. J. “The Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 Technical Report: Development and Validation”. 2014. Available at: http://www.thecliftonfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Clifton-StrengthsFinder-Technical-Report-2015.pdf. Accessed on August, 17, 2017.
In article      View Article
 
[12]  Royal, K. D., Flammer, K., Borst, L., Huckle, J., Barter, H., &Neel, J. G. “A comprehensive wellness program for veterinary medical education: design and implementation at North Carolina State University.” International Journal of Higher Education, 6(1): 74-83, 2017.
In article      View Article
 
[13]  Royal, K. D. “Clarifying the instructional role of faculty in medical and health professions programs.” Education in Medicine Journal, 9(2), 75-77, 2017.
In article      View Article
 
[14]  Weidman, J. C., & Stein, E. L. “Socialization of doctoral students to academic norms.” Research in Higher Education, 44(6): 641-656, 2003.
In article      View Article
 
[15]  Clark, S. M., & Corcoran, M. “Perspectives on the professional socialization of women faculty.” Journal of Higher Education, 57(1): 20-43, 1986.
In article      View Article
 
[16]  Austin, A. E. “Preparing the next generation of faculty: Graduate school as socialization to the academic career.” Journal of Higher Education, 73(1): 94-122, 2002.
In article      View Article
 
[17]  Royal, K. D. Four tenets of modern validity theory for medical education assessment and evaluation. Advances in Medical Education & Practice, 3(8): 567-570, 2017.
In article      View Article  PubMed
 

Published with license by Science and Education Publishing, Copyright © 2018 Kenneth D. Royal, Betsy Taylor, Rivers Baker, Jeffrey Huckel and Keven Flammer

Creative CommonsThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Cite this article:

Normal Style
Kenneth D. Royal, Betsy Taylor, Rivers Baker, Jeffrey Huckel, Keven Flammer. Establishing StrengthsFinder Norms for Veterinary Medical Students. American Journal of Educational Research. Vol. 6, No. 2, 2018, pp 152-157. http://pubs.sciepub.com/education/6/2/11
MLA Style
Royal, Kenneth D., et al. "Establishing StrengthsFinder Norms for Veterinary Medical Students." American Journal of Educational Research 6.2 (2018): 152-157.
APA Style
Royal, K. D. , Taylor, B. , Baker, R. , Huckel, J. , & Flammer, K. (2018). Establishing StrengthsFinder Norms for Veterinary Medical Students. American Journal of Educational Research, 6(2), 152-157.
Chicago Style
Royal, Kenneth D., Betsy Taylor, Rivers Baker, Jeffrey Huckel, and Keven Flammer. "Establishing StrengthsFinder Norms for Veterinary Medical Students." American Journal of Educational Research 6, no. 2 (2018): 152-157.
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[1]  Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. “Positive psychology: An introduction.” American Psychologist, 55(1): 5-14, 2000.
In article      View Article  PubMed
 
[2]  Clifton, D. O., & Harter, J. K. (2003). “Strengths investment.” In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship. (pp. 111-121). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2003.
In article      
 
[3]  Gallup, Inc. About us. Available at: https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/Home/en-US/About. Accessed on November 20, 2017.
In article      View Article
 
[4]  Alpert, D. “Performance and paralysis: The organizational context American research university.” Journal of Higher Education, 56: 241-81, 1985.
In article      View Article
 
[5]  Becher, T. “Disciplinary shaping of the profession.” In B. R. Clark (Ed.), The academic profession: National, disciplinary, and institutional settings. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1987.
In article      
 
[6]  Clark, B. R. Academic culture. New Haven, CT: Higher Education Research Group, Yale University, 1980.
In article      
 
[7]  Ladd, E. C., & Lipset, S. M. Technical Report: 1975 Survey of the American professorate. Storrs, CT: The University of Connecticut, Social Science Data Center, 1975.
In article      
 
[8]  Lee, J. J. “Comparing institutional relationships with academic departments: A study of five academic fields.” Research in Higher Education, 45(6) 603-624, 2004.
In article      View Article
 
[9]  Smart, J. C., Feldman, K. A., & Ethington, C. A. Academic disciplines: Holland's theory and the study of college students and faculty. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2000.
In article      View Article
 
[10]  Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
In article      PubMed
 
[11]  Asplund, J., Agrawal, S., Hodges, Y., Harter, J., & Lopez, S. J. “The Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 Technical Report: Development and Validation”. 2014. Available at: http://www.thecliftonfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Clifton-StrengthsFinder-Technical-Report-2015.pdf. Accessed on August, 17, 2017.
In article      View Article
 
[12]  Royal, K. D., Flammer, K., Borst, L., Huckle, J., Barter, H., &Neel, J. G. “A comprehensive wellness program for veterinary medical education: design and implementation at North Carolina State University.” International Journal of Higher Education, 6(1): 74-83, 2017.
In article      View Article
 
[13]  Royal, K. D. “Clarifying the instructional role of faculty in medical and health professions programs.” Education in Medicine Journal, 9(2), 75-77, 2017.
In article      View Article
 
[14]  Weidman, J. C., & Stein, E. L. “Socialization of doctoral students to academic norms.” Research in Higher Education, 44(6): 641-656, 2003.
In article      View Article
 
[15]  Clark, S. M., & Corcoran, M. “Perspectives on the professional socialization of women faculty.” Journal of Higher Education, 57(1): 20-43, 1986.
In article      View Article
 
[16]  Austin, A. E. “Preparing the next generation of faculty: Graduate school as socialization to the academic career.” Journal of Higher Education, 73(1): 94-122, 2002.
In article      View Article
 
[17]  Royal, K. D. Four tenets of modern validity theory for medical education assessment and evaluation. Advances in Medical Education & Practice, 3(8): 567-570, 2017.
In article      View Article  PubMed