Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Does Digital Versus Paper Practice Make a Difference?

Practice supported student learning, but the format of practice did not matter.

Introduction to Modern Chemistry

Vuocolo teaches Introduction to Modern Chemistry, a large lecture course with approximately 230 students. A critical component of this class is learning to draw Lewis structures, which are diagrams that show the bonding between atoms and lone pairs of electrons that may exist in a molecule. Vuocolo investigated how providing practice on this skill using an online app, Chem 101, compares to practice using pen and paper. All students took a pre-test, before Vuocolo provided a lecture demonstration on Lewis structures. Six recitation sections were randomly assigned to practice Lewis structures using either the Chem 101 app or pen and paper exercises. All students spent an equal amount of time (approximately thirty minutes) practicing Lewis structures, before immediately taking a post-test. Students in both conditions improved significantly from pre- to post-test. However, outcomes did not differ significantly when students practiced with pen and paper or the Chem 101 app.

chart indicating post-test score controlling for pre-test

Using the pre-test as a covariate, there was no difference in student performance on the post-test between those who practiced Lewis structures using the Chem101 app and those who practiced using the traditional pen and paper method. Error bars are the 95% confidence intervals for the estimated marginal means.

The mean difference of 2.5 was not statistically significant, p = .124.

Dependent Variable: learning
Pedagogical Strategy: active learning   TEL
Study Design: category 1