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 How Humans and Machines Navigate Complex Situations
19.11.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht A gene activated in infant and young brains determines learning capacity in adulthood
13.11.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

All articles from Science Education >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A new look at 'strange metals'

For years, a new synthesis method has been developed at TU Wien (Vienna) to unlock the secrets of "strange metals". Now a breakthrough has been achieved. The results have been published in "Science".

Superconductors allow electrical current to flow without any resistance - but only below a certain critical temperature. Many materials have to be cooled down...

Im Focus: Programmable nests for cells

KIT researchers develop novel composites of DNA, silica particles, and carbon nanotubes -- Properties can be tailored to various applications

Using DNA, smallest silica particles, and carbon nanotubes, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) developed novel programmable materials....

Im Focus: Miniature double glazing: Material developed which is heat-insulating and heat-conducting at the same time

Styrofoam or copper - both materials have very different properties with regard to their ability to conduct heat. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz and the University of Bayreuth have now jointly developed and characterized a novel, extremely thin and transparent material that has different thermal conduction properties depending on the direction. While it can conduct heat extremely well in one direction, it shows good thermal insulation in the other direction.

Thermal insulation and thermal conduction play a crucial role in our everyday lives - from computer processors, where it is important to dissipate heat as...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer IAF establishes an application laboratory for quantum sensors

In order to advance the transfer of research developments from the field of quantum sensor technology into industrial applications, an application laboratory is being established at Fraunhofer IAF. This will enable interested companies and especially regional SMEs and start-ups to evaluate the innovation potential of quantum sensors for their specific requirements. Both the state of Baden-Württemberg and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft are supporting the four-year project with one million euros each.

The application laboratory is being set up as part of the Fraunhofer lighthouse project »QMag«, short for quantum magnetometry. In this project, researchers...

Im Focus: How Cells Assemble Their Skeleton

Researchers study the formation of microtubules

Microtubules, filamentous structures within the cell, are required for many important processes, including cell division and intracellular transport. A...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

11th Advanced Battery Power Conference, March 24-25, 2020 in Münster/Germany

16.01.2020 | Event News

Laser Colloquium Hydrogen LKH2: fast and reliable fuel cell manufacturing

15.01.2020 | Event News

„Advanced Battery Power“- Conference, Contributions are welcome!

07.01.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new look at 'strange metals'

21.01.2020 | Materials Sciences

Body's natural signal carriers can help melanoma spread

21.01.2020 | Health and Medicine

Structual color barcode micromotors for multiplex biosensing

21.01.2020 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>