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.

February 2023

Varied practice testing is associated with better learning outcomes in self-regulated online learning

Although student learning has been shown in laboratory studies to benefit more from retrieval practice compared to rereading, this finding has not been demonstrated in real world educational environments at scale. Using the Open Learning Initiative (OLI), researchers leveraged data from over 1,000 students (and more than 10,000 data points) in two different online courses to test whether students' decisions to practice with the material, rather than reread, are related to better learning outcomes. Results showed that, indeed, compared to reading only, practicing with the material was associated with improved learning outcomes. There was also a dosage effect, such that the more activities were completed, the more learning outcomes improved. Students tended to practice with a variety of different activities, which differs from most laboratory experiments where repeated practice tends to be with the same problems, suggesting that exact repetition is not necessary to achieve this effect. This paper provides an example of how data from naturally occurring educational environments can be used to further our understanding of learning science.

Carvalho, P. F., McLaughlin, E. A., & Koedinger, K. R. (2022). Journal of Educational Psychology.

[link to article]

Internet or archive? Expertise in searching for digital sources on a contentious historical question

This study explored what skills are involved in searching online for information, particularly on contentious historical and political questions. Through a think-aloud task, the author compared how experts (professional fact checkers and historians) and college students approached researching the following prompt: “Some people have claimed that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, supported euthanasia. Use any resources online to help you decide if you think this claim is true.”

Analyses of screen recordings and transcripts revealed that experts used the search results as a source to help them understand the political context of their queries and to select reliable sources. Furthermore, they searched for evidence from authoritative secondary sources. In contrast, students clicked on sites near the top of search results and weighted evidence from primary sources more heavily. In courses where research is a key component, students may benefit from practice with identifying how search engine algorithms filter results, contextualizing claims, and using snippets (the small block of phrases pulled from the website and provided below the URL in a search result) to make selections about which sites to open.

McGrew, S. (2022). Cognition and Instruction, 40(4), 488-516.

[link to article]

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