Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

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What’s the Eberly Center reading and thinking about this month?

The Research and Scholarship Digest, published the first Monday of each month, consists of short summaries of recently peer-reviewed studies on teaching and learning topics. This digest offers a view into what we are reading and thinking about at the Eberly Center that:

• adds to our understanding of how students learn
• is potentially generalizable across teaching contexts in higher education
• provokes reflection on implications for our teaching and educational development practices.

We hope the readers of this digest will find it a useful resource for staying in-tune with the rapidly expanding education research literature.


August 2018

Should students assessed as needing remedial mathematics take college-level quantitative courses instead? A randomized controlled trial.

Students needing to take remedial math classes often do not pass those classes and have high levels of college dropout. Consequently, some colleges have started to allow students to take college level classes without first taking remedial courses. The researchers randomly assigned students (n=717) in need of remedial classes to take either a traditional remedial algebra class, a remedial algebra class with workshops, or a college level statistics class with workshops. Students assigned to the college-level statistics class with workshops passed the class at a higher rate than students in remedial algebra with or without workshops (56% vs 39% and 45%). Students assigned to the college-level statistics class accumulated more college credits than those in the remedial class.

Logue, A. W., Watanabe-Rose, M., & Douglas, D. (2016). Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis38(3), 578-598.
[link to article]

Examining the contributions of desirable difficulty and reminding to the spacing effect.

Three experiments were conducted (N=134) to evaluate the desirable difficulties (DD) account of the mechanism underlying the benefits of spaced practice on learning. The DD account hypothesizes that retrieving information after a lag in time creates a slightly more difficult task that, in turn, leads to stronger encoding of the information.  Results from the three experiments, however, show that a longer lag time in between study events improves memory performance above and beyond the measured “desirable difficulty” induced by the lag itself, suggesting that the DD account of the spacing effect is either inaccurate or incomplete. That is, increasing the time lag between study events is effective, but this is not simply due to the increased difficulty of acquisition relative to that of a study event following a shorter (or zero) time lag.  The results of experiment 3 suggest that other variables, such as encoding variability, likely play a key role in explaining the spacing effect, although more research is clearly needed before coming to a firm conclusion.

Maddox, G. B., Pyc, M. A., Kauffman, Z. S., Gatewood, J. D., & Schonhoff, A. M. (2018). Memory & cognition, 1-13. , 1-19.
[link to article]


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