Carnegie Mellon University

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Archive of Past Articles

A Bayesian network meta-analysis to synthesize the influence of contexts of scaffolding use on cognitive outcomes in STEM education

This meta-analysis looks at N=56 studies on the impact of computer-based scaffolding on student learning. The researchers looked at within subjects gains in pre-post analysis of learning. The reviewed studies span from K-12 to graduate level students. The researchers found that computer scaffolding showed strong effect across student populations particularly for college and graduate students and STEM disciplines. 

Belland, Brian R., Andrew E. Walker, and Nam Ju Kim (2017). SReview of Educational Research, vol. 87, no. 6, pp. 1042-1081.
[link to article]

Stereotype threat effects on learning from a cognitively demanding mathematics lesson

A study of predominantly African-American 5th grade students (N=135) examined the effects of stereotype threat on initial student learning and knowledge formation using a math lesson.  Students assigned to the “threat” condition were asked to give their race at the beginning of the lesson - led to believe the study was about how students ‘like them’ learn best - and students in the control condition were asked to record the date instead of their race.  Results showed that students in the threat condition retained less information, enjoyed the lesson less, and reported lower levels of motivation than students in the control condition.  This effect was especially pronounced for students with higher levels of baseline executive functioning.  These findings suggest that stereotype threat may play a key role in the initial development of achievement gaps in education, and that its effects impact students on a deeper level beyond just test-taking performance.

Lyons, E. M., Simms, N., Begolli, K. N., & Richland, L. E. (2017). Cognitive science
[link to article]

Changes in syllabus tone affect warmth (but not competence) ratings of both male and female instructors

This study aimed to show correlations between the "friendliness" of a syllabus and student perceptions of the instructor's approachability and competence by gender. 150 undergraduate students were given either "friendly" or " not friendly" syllabi from either a female, male, or gender-unspecified instructor. The results showed that students perceived the "friendly" syllabus instructors as "more approachable, more caring, and more motivating, but not any more or less competent than those receiving the not friendly syllabus," regardless of gender. The article also includes a detailed list of example phrases from both the friendly and unfriendly syllabi, providing examples that could be used when teaching instructors about syllabus tone.

Denton, A.W.; Veloso, J. (2017). Social Psychology of Education (20). 1-15.
[link to article]

Student learning with permissive and restrictive cell phone policies: A classroom experiment

Two sections of a class taught by the same instructor had either a restrictive cell phone policy or a permissive cell phone policy (N=31). Students in the restrictive section were told they could be removed from class for use of their cell phones, and students in the permissive section were allowed to use cell phones during class. Researchers found no significant difference in the students' learning but found a statistically significant difference in the ratings of the instructor. The restrictive section gave higher ratings to the instructor than the permissive section. This research shows that student attitudes toward the instructor may not be negatively affected by a restrictive cell phone policy. 

Lancaster, Alexander (2018). International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, vol. 12, no. 1
[link to article]

Humor in the classroom: The effects of integrated humor on student learning 

Some previous research has suggested that humor could positively affect student motivation and attention. In this lab-based study, researchers asked whether integrated humor used to teach course concepts would affect students’ recall. In Study 1, 87 students were divided into two conditions. Students in condition 1 received a written lesson on self-efficacy that employed a humorous example. Students in condition 2 received the same lesson but a serious example. Students in condition 2 performed better on a multiple-choice recall test. Study 2 replicated the findings for study 1 using a new student population (more upper-level students), a new lesson (on cohesion in communication), a new learning environment (two different universities), and a new recall test (multiple choice + short answer). This study suggests that using integrated humor to directly teach core course concepts may negatively affect students’ learning of this content because humorous examples “potentially depress students’ ability to retain and transfer the ideas being presented.”

Bolkan, S., Griffin, D. J., & Goodboy, A. K. (2018). Communication Education, 1–21.
[link to article]

Reverse the routine: Problem solving before instruction improves conceptual knowledge in undergraduate physics

Exploratory learning in STEM courses at the university level is a relatively under-researched area. In three studies, researchers tested the effects of completing a collaborative (or solo) learning activity prior to being lectured about that topic (explore-first condition) versus completing the same activity after having the lecture (instruct-first condition). Across two semesters, students in three separate sections of a physics course (N = 362) were randomly assigned to receive either explore-first or instruct-first treatment in groups or individually. After completing both the activity and the lecture (in either order), all students completed a quiz to assess their learning as well as an interest/enjoyment questionnaire. Results showed that students in the explore-first condition tended to struggle more with the activity itself, but performed better on conceptual questions on the quiz than students in the instruct-first condition. There was no difference in performance on procedural quiz questions. Furthermore, students in the explore-first condition reported higher levels of interest and enjoyment. Results also showed that there was no added benefit of exploring in a group over exploring individually, suggesting that the benefits of exploratory learning are not simply driven by working collaboratively with others.  

Weaver, J. P., Chastain, R. J., DeCaro, D. A., & DeCaro, M. S. (2018). Contemporary Educational Psychology52, 36-47.
[link to article]

Peer Mentor Program for the General Chemistry Laboratory Designed To Improve Undergraduate STEM Retention. 

Several hundred undergraduate students enrolled in introductory chemistry labs at a large state university were assigned an upper-class peer mentor to each laboratory section. Instead of grading student work or focusing on course content, the mentor's responsibility was to check in with lab groups to talk about adjusting to college, offer advice on being a successful STEM student, and discuss other relevant topics such as undergraduate research opportunities or pursuing graduate school. After four years of the program, the peer-mentored cohort graduation rate was substantially higher (∼30%) than the non-peer laboratories group, and ∼22% higher than the general student population. 

Damkaci, F.; Braun, T.F.; Gublo, K. (2017). Journal of Chemical Education, ASAP. 
[link to article]

The Dark Side of Interpolated Testing: Frequent Switching Between Retrieval and Encoding Impairs New Learning

In a laboratory experiment using undergraduate participants (N=376), researchers sought to replicate and extend prior work that showed how retrieval practice can impair new learning (see Davis and Chan, 2015). Experimenters had participants switch between retrieval practice trials for a set of previously learned items and trials for the learning of new items at varying frequencies to determine the effects of making that switch has on learning the new content.  Results showed that as the frequency of switching between retrieval practice and new learning increased, the successful learning of the new information decreased. This research suggests that information retrieval and information encoding rely on separate cognitive processes that may compete for the same mental resources, and contributes to our understanding of how the use of interpolated testing could potentially hinder the learning of new information.

Davis, S. D., Chan, J. C., & Wilford, M. M. (2017). Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.
[link to article]