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Great Minds Think Different

Jean-Baptiste Quillien
Jean-Baptiste Quillien, a 2011 UMD Graduate

Does the study of a language affect learning in other subjects? Jean-Baptiste Quillien, a former UMD undergraduate student, wants to take part in the challenge of discovering what helps students learn while still maintaining their creative capacities using his native language.

Originally on track to become a French professor, Quillien switched gears after a developmental psychology class with Associate Professor Fay Maas of the Psychology department. With a French background and a new major in Psychology, Quillien decided to do a UROP on how language affects creativity.

During spring semester of 2011 Quillien and Maas performed their experiment. Two groups of eight to twelve year-old students were compared: The first group, the treatment group, participated in extracurricular French lessons while the other group, the control group, followed a regular academic schedule.

As the students were being observed, Quillien searched for significant divergences between the two groups in four different areas of his design. Fluency, which referred to how many ideas a student could create with a prompt; Flexibility, the number of different categories each fluent idea fell under; Elaboration, how many details were given to the idea; and Abstractness of Title, how much the title given to the idea differs from the prompt itself.

Quillien gave each group of students a pre-test as a prompt to measure their creativity. The test was comprised of a booklet of images in which the students were to draw in and explain their ideas. Following the test were 15 sessions of French consisting of 40 minutes each. After lessons were taught over the course of a few weeks the students were presented with a post-test prompt similar to the pre-test given in the beginning of the experiment.

The results showed that the treatment group of students (those who participated in French lessons) displayed a significant increase compared to the control group (those in a regular academic schedule) in fluency. The treatment group also displayed abstract titles that surpassed the control group who did better in the initial pre-test. However, although the results are inconclusive, they have become the prototype for future research by Quillien.

“I could not have accomplished my research without the one-on-one mentorship that I received from the faculty at UMD” said Quillien, ”I wouldn’t have been as inspired to continue my education and research if it were not for the support I received throughout the whole process.”

Quillien is continuing his studies at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus, where he is pursuing his Doctorate in Educational-Psychology in Learning and Cognition.

Maas said, “The UROP program lets students find a problem. It then lets them develop the question and lets them figure out the answer-- that to me is, from the sponsor’s point of view, the most fascinating and enjoyable part of the UROP experience."


Written by Jessica Coffin, coffi025@d.umn.edu November 2011

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