Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Pre-lecture diagrams help students take better notes, learn more

10.06.2015

Providing students with illustrative diagrams showing relationships among key concepts to be discussed in a lecture can boost student learning and recall, especially for students who have difficulty organizing bits and pieces of related information into a cohesive mental framework, suggests a new study from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

"Teachers need to understand that providing supportive material in advance can make a big difference in helping students grasp and lock in key concepts presented in a lecture," said study co-author Mark McDaniel, PhD, a professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences and co-director of the university's Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education.


Even simple diagrams, such as this schematic of the working parts of a brake system, can help students construct a mental framework of how something works, whether that be a mechanical device, as in this example, or a more abstract concept, such as the firings of neurons in a brain network, researchers suggest.

Credit: Wikipedia / Creative Commons; Public Domain. See http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AirBrake.gif

"Some students are very good at building these mental frameworks on their own, but others struggle with the process, and it's those students who will benefit most from getting extra support in advance of the lecture," McDaniel said. "It shows them a basic framework or model of the concept that they can begin building in their minds."

Published in the June issue of the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, the study's lead author is Dung Bui, PhD, a recent graduate of the psychology doctoral program at Washington University.

The findings show how success in learning can be linked to important individual differences in how our minds process information -- differences that educators should consider, McDaniel said.

"If instructors want all their students to learn the material, they need to realize there are differences in learning skills and present information in a format that works better for students with less-developed skills," McDaniel said. "If organizationally challenged students get the right advance support, they are more than capable of learning the material. The more advance support, the better."

In this study, 144 college undergraduates with no mechanical experience listened to spoken explanations of how key components of an automobile braking system work together to slow a car.

Participants were divided into three groups, with some getting a blank sheet of notepaper, some getting bare-bones text outlines describing key concepts, and others getting more detailed overviews with embedded diagrams showing how brake shoes, drums and other parts fit together to complete the braking system.

All completed a psychological assessment rating the ability to build coherent mental representations of complex concepts -- a cognitive skill known as "structure building."

Based on research by Morton Ann Gernsbacher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, structure-building theory suggests deep comprehension requires a two-step process in which learners must first identify and understand key terms and concepts and then grasp how these pieces fit together into a cohesive framework.

Skilled structure builders are adept at building preliminary mental frameworks for organizing information as it's being presented and then layering other information on that foundation when it's deemed to be relevant, McDaniel said.

Unlike common reading comprehension tests in which participants may refer back to material presented in a written text, participants in the Bui and McDaniel study were limited to what they could glean from the material as presented in the lecture, forcing them to rely on their initial mental constructions to answer subsequent questions.

Not surprisingly, participants who rated high on structure-building skills needed less support from outlines and diagrams. While high structure builders appeared capable of building mental models on their own, even they performed better on recall and problem-solving tests when provided with outlines or visual diagrams.

Low structure builders, on the other hand, needed every bit of advance support they could get. While simple text outlines provided during note-taking didn't do much to improve their scores, those who received handouts with diagrams did much better on post-presentation problem-solving tests.

Both high and low structure builders took fewer notes when presented with supporting material, but the notes they took were of better quality and focused more on connecting ideas as opposed to verbatim transcription, the study found.

Much research has shown that trying to write down every word in a lecture is a poor learning strategy because notetakers often focus mindlessly on capturing individual words and miss the meaning behind them. Notetakers who use this strategy usually don't perform well when asked to freely recall content from the lecture, McDaniel said.

McDaniel is now testing these findings in college classrooms. Preliminary work suggests students with low structure-building skills are the ones who struggle most in classes based around large lecture-hall presentations.

Some educational experts argue that spoon-feeding students with detailed pre-lecture outlines inhibits learning because students are not as challenged and focused on the material as it's presented. Learning is stronger when it's hard, they suggest.

Others contend that learning is inherently hard and that it's a mistake to make it harder by intentionally overworking scarce cognitive resources.

McDaniel said there's research to support both arguments. He suggests the make-it-hard school may make sense for learners with high structure-building skills, since developing complex mental models comes easier to them and added rigor may help them retain more for the long haul.

But for students who have difficulty constructing mental frameworks, making the lecture experience harder may simply result in a lot less learning, he said.

Why do we see individual differences in structure-building abilities?

Some suspect that low structure builders have trouble sorting out what information is important to the model and what is extraneous. Others suggest a level of prior knowledge is necessary to effectively build a mental framework on the fly; that you need some grasp of the context to begin putting the pieces in order.

"The key takeaway here is that providing learners with supportive material in advance of the lecture helps them build a comprehensive model of how each part of the system relates to the next," McDaniel said. "The important thing to realize is that there are learners who need more advance support to learn challenging concepts."

###

Editor's Note: Mark McDaniel can be reached at (314) 935-8030; mmcdanie@artsci.wustl.edu.

Media Contact

Gerry Everding
gerry_everding@wustl.edu
314-935-6375

 @WUSTLnews

http://www.wustl.edu 

Gerry Everding | EurekAlert!

More articles from Science Education:

nachricht Cebit 2018: Saarbrücken Start-up combines Tinkering and Programming for Elementary School Kids
05.06.2018 | Universität des Saarlandes

nachricht The classroom of tomorrow – DFKI and TUK open lab for new digital teaching and learning methods
03.05.2018 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI

All articles from Science Education >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino

16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Barium ruthenate: A high-yield, easy-to-handle perovskite catalyst for the oxidation of sulfides

16.07.2018 | Life Sciences

New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon

16.07.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>