Child Development 170: Contextual Influences on Cognitive Development

/developed by Dr. Eugene Matusov/

Child Development 170: Contextual Influences on Cognitive Development
-- Spring 1997 --

Class Schedule

TIME OF CLASS: Monday, Wednesday, & Friday, 12:30-1:30 pm PLACE: Sweeney Hall #434

First class meeting: January 22 (Wed.) Last class meeting: May 14 (Wed.)

Instructor will be out of town for a conference: 03/31-04/04.

Info about Instructor, Teaching Assistants, & Office Hours

INSTRUCTOR: Eugene Matusov, Ph. D.
For more info about the Instructor see Eugene Matusov's Home Web Page
Office: Sweeney Hall #to be announced Phone: to be announced e-mail:
Office hours: by appointment, Mondays

Overview: The core 5 questions

The course examines how the issues of cognitive development have been addressed and studied in theoretical and empirical works in developmental psychology. We are going to discuss social, individual, cultural, and institutional cognitive processes across different educational settings. We are going to discuss how schools, family, culture, race, history, economy share cognition of children. The course is designed to encourage participants (i.e., each student and the instructor) to engage in critical thinking and discussions concerning cognitive development in understanding human development.

There will be three agendas for the course:

-- conceptual frameworks: a sociocultural approach, Piaget, Vygotsky, information processing approach, neo-Piagetian approaches, etc.;
-- developmental issues: remembering, planning, communicating, perceiving, representing, problem solving, social cognition, etc.; and
-- ecological diversity of cognitive development: recognized age periods -- infancy, mid childhood, adolescence, and so on;

We will examine the theories and research on these topics using the following five core questions:

  1. What is cognition and its evidence?
  2. Where is cognition located: in the individual, in a group, in the activity, in the practice, in the institution, in culture?
  3. Is cognition context-free? Does generic cognition exist?
  4. How is cognition and its development shaped by culture, society, institution, history, and individual?
  5. How to facilitate cognitive development?

Each student is expected to participate as a responsible member of the class who is willing to contribute to one's own as well as others' learning. The course involves extensive discussion and small group activities based on the readings and several films. Individuals and/or groups will work on and present projects during the quarter.

Active participation in class and web discussions and small group activities is crucial for learning in this course. Class participation also includes playing active roles in creating a supportive atmosphere in which every participant's learning will be fostered. This involves both building on or disagreeing with arguments made by others.

First week's assignment

Description of your interests. (1 single-spaced page, max.; DUE 10/4 Fri. via class Web)

Describe the reason you are taking the course and what you would like to get out of it. The following questions may guide your writing. Everyone should include the first question in your response. However, you may choose whether you want to respond to the remaining questions listed or to include other issues as you wish.

  1. How does the course relate to your interests (e.g., personal, professional, political, etc.)?
  2. What are you expecting to learn from participating in the course ( e.g., in general, in contrast to other child psychology courses you have taken, etc.)?
  3. How do you think you can make contributions to your own and others' learning in this course?
  4. How is the goal of the course, as you understand it now, related to your learning goals?

The purpose of the assignment is to facilitate your thinking about your expectations, learning needs, and demands for the course in order to make your own learning more meaningful and self-directive and to make the class more productive for everybody. The assignment also will help to make and design your final evaluation (see Purposes & Expectations: Participating in development of the class evaluation Web page that may help you to think through the issues).

Make Description of my interests the subject of your message on the Web.

Participation in our class Web discussions

I expect you to read all the messages and contribute a minimum of three messages per week (which can involve messages of various lengths on a subject initiated by you or replies to somebody else's messages – class announcements and replies to them do NOT count). The Web discussion will be based on readings, class discussions, your questions, your experiences, your comments, and my guiding questions for readings (provided in the reader collection of the assigned papers). I know that some of you may feel uncomfortable exposing your thinking to the entire class – but students from my previous classes found it was fun after a couple of weeks. Don't worry about spelling – think only about communicating your ideas. Nobody judges or grades your web contributions.


We expect you to read the minimal readings indicated in the parentheses in the reading list.

Because we do not expect you to read all assigned papers (although you are welcome to read all of them), we are going to discuss reading in the three following phases in class:

Four copies of each assigned paper are available at the Reserve Book Room at the Library (you can borrow a paper for 2 hours).

While reading the papers, I would like you to focus on how the readings relate to your life experience, your interests, and future career.

Please, let me know if the order and the content of the topics meet your needs, so I can adjust them as we go and/or change for the next time I teach this class (see Purposes & Expectations: Reading the assigned literature).

Group project
Paper and class presentation. (2-3 single-spaced pages for each involved student in the group; the final written draft of group project paper is DUE the day of your group presentation in class)

The idea of the group project is to learn together how to work on a project – this skill is very important for your future career. Also, by sharing frustration and problems together, I believe you'll provide a lot of guidance for each other.

Choose one of the topics we discussed in the course and develop your arguments and provide evidence for your claims. Discuss what you take to be the practical implication of the cognitive processes for one aspect of your lives (e.g., family, school, work place, social program, etc.). The topics for the group project and its evaluation will be discussed in class meetings and laid out midway through the quarter. Groups can vary from 3 to 8 people (hopefully, groups will emerge "naturally" by mid-quarter through discussions of the assigned readings).

What needs to be considered in the paper:

Final paper
(Option I: add 2-3 single-spaced pages to the group project; Option II: write a new paper from scratch, 3-4 single-spaced pages; the final draft DUE 05/23 Fri. via the Publishing Web for Students' Final Papers at )

Option I involves integration and elaboration on some aspects of the group paper. You probably will change the title and abstract of the paper. Also it may require you to make changes throughout the paper (do not expect simple addition to the text). Add one new paper reference and two more Internet web references. Include acknowledgments to your fellow students who contributed to the paper and describe your contribution (put all these in the abstract)

Option II involves selecting a new topic that is different from your group project. However, you can use references or some ideas from your (or another) group project. Add two new paper references and two more Internet web references.

Note that the paper of Option II will be a bit longer because Option I involves an integration which may not be an easy task.

All other guidelines are the same as for group projects (see above, do not forget to include abstracts).

I want you to publish your final paper on the Internet because in this class you are going to learn to become more and more public in your work – this seems to be very valuable skill in your future career.

For further requirements and formats see Purposes & Expectations: Writing the final papers.

Last week's assignment (due May 23, published on our class web)

The final evaluation will include an abstract from your individual final paper and 1-3 paragraphs on what you learned in the class that is what was interesting or relevant for your future career and what issues you'd like to explore in future (see Purposes & Expectations: Participating in development of the class evaluation).

Since we have institutional requirements for grading, I want to provide my grading philosophy. I expect all students who honestly put their efforts in their own and fellow student's learning to get "A." This involves timely fulfilling all the requirements (i.e., class participation, active working in small groups, reading assigned literature, participation on the class web, active and responsible involvement in the group projects, and developing final paper on your interest) and having ownership for your own learning. I believe that you are the highest authority of your own learning. I promise to do as much as I can to meet your learning needs. The grades below "A" will be decided on an individual basis. I'll try to let you know during the course, if you work becomes below "A" in my judgment.

There won't be a final exam.

Feedback on the class
In addition to the traditional University evaluation at the end of the class, I really want your regular feedback on the class so we can improve it down the road. So I want to ask you to fill out biweekly feedback survey forms every even Saturday of the month. The reports of the feedback will be prepared timely and published on our class Web. I also plan to discuss them in the class. You are welcome to send your questions, comments, and/or suggestions via e-mail or raise them during the class or office hours. I appreciate your help and partnership in running the class and making it comfortable and meaningful for every member (see Purposes & Expectations: Filling out the biweekly feedback surveys).

Estimated class workload per week
Below is our rough estimation of students' workload per week (in hours) (I averaged time if work does not occur every week):

Type of students' engagement Time
Participating in Web discussions 3.0

Reading for the class (40-50 pages per week)

Preparing for the final paper and group project (on "average") 1.0

Attending classes (twice a week)

Total: 9.0

Your biweekly feedback will probably help us to correct some of these numbers.

Last changed: January 20, 1997. Created by Eugene Matusov.