Do Print, Web-Based, or Blackboard Integrated Tutorial Strategies Differentially Influence Student Learning in an Introductory Psychology Class?

Article excerpt

Web-based tutorials offer an opportunity to provide automated individualized feedback to help students develop, for example, the ability to identify independent and dependent variables and the ability to discriminate between experimental and predictor variables. Doing so enables them to distinguish between the relatively clear-cut causal conclusions from true experiments and the more in depth analysis required to judge causality from correlational studies. Evaluation data shows the Web tutorial (http://cas.bellarmine.edu/Osborn/hypertut_piv) improved student performance compared to a print tutorial. The strongest effect size (Cohen's d = .50) was obtained when comparing print problem solving only classes to print problem solving plus Web tutorial-available classes' performance. Also, using Blackboard to add class points as a direct incentive for using the tutorial material may lead to increased performance (Cohen's d = 30) over simply making the Web tutorial available.

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Differentiating between antecedent or independent variables (IV) and consequent or dependent variables (DV) is essential for understanding psychological research. Understanding the difference between correlational findings and experimentally based causal findings is necessary for the critical thinking skill of the evaluation and specification of evidence. These higher level cognitive skills are difficult to teach and the rapid and accurate feedback available through computerized tutorials has the potential to develop these skills in the most time effective way for both students and instructors. Many instructors use publisher provided course supplements that seem to teach these distinctions but, unfortunately, there are no published evaluations of proprietary course supplements so their instructional value is uncertain.

However, there are some evaluations of instructor developed electronic materials. Koch and Gobell (1999) found online tutorials led to improved accuracy in decisions about design issues and the correct choice of statistics in an advanced course on research methods and statistics. Similarly, in advanced research methods and cognitive classes, Washburn and Flemming (2004) showed their complicated computerized drills helped students develop the critical thinking skill of discriminating facts from interpretations, a basic building block of critical thinking. However, other studies have found lower student performance from computer-assisted instruction (CAI). For example, Cracolice and Abraham (1996) concluded that as the difficulty of the problems in a chemistry class increased, students assigned to the printed workbook condition outperformed students in both the discussion and CAI conditions. DeBord, Aruguete, and Muhlig (2004) presented an excellent review of a number of research articles on the effectiveness of CAI which shows the complexity of understanding its usefulness. Their finding that student performance in introductory psychology classes was not improved by making CAI available through a Web site shows computer technology is not necessarily a positive learning resource.

Still, some researchers have found Web-enhanced instruction does lead to more learning. Bartini (2008) used the learning management system PageOut in a 200 level Child Psychology class to develop a Web site to administer on-line quizzes and provide students with a comprehensive set of supplemental instructional materials. Compared to a control class that did not have these resources, students in the Web enhanced section had higher exam scores. Also, in a study with differentiated treatments, Elicker, O'Malley, and Williams (2008) found that the simple addition of a chat room and e-mail-the-instructor feature to a basic WebCT site led to better performance in an introductory psychology class. While the students in the basic control site indicated they used the publisher provided tutorial modules for homework and test preparation significantly more frequently than the students in the experimental WebCT sections, the control students performed less well in scores on the three dependent variables of tests, homework assignments, and a paper. …