Active student engagement with course materials, such as note-taking and cooperative learning, is associated with greater performance. This study investigated the relationship between scores achieved by students in an undergraduate course and active engagement during testing, whether using a cheat sheet or engaging in a form of cooperative testing. Subjects were 141 undergraduate students enrolled in a course required for admission to the teacher education program at a regional state university. Five multiple-choice tests were administered during the semester. Four testing conditions were sequentially implemented: (a) independent, (b) 'cheat sheet', (c) heterogeneous achievement group discussion, and (d) homogenous achievement group discussion along with a 'cheat sheet.' Wilcoxon signed-ranks test showed significant gains for all alternative testing conditions over the independent condition. Heterogeneous achievement group discussion had the largest effect size, overall, but responses to the other two testing conditions differed depending on students' prior achievement levels. Results suggest implications for the effective use of individual and cooperative testing procedures.
Those challenged with facilitating student learning at all instructional levels recognize that student engagement is key to academic competence. Effective study skills are foundationally important to competence in both academic and non-academic settings (Gettinger & Seibert, 2002). These include competencies associated with acquiring, recording, organizing, synthesizing, remembering and using information (Hoover & Patton, 1995). Pressley & Afflerbach (1995) identified several key strategies that facilitate learning. These included (a) overview before reading, (b) attention to important information, (c) relating / connecting important points, (d) activation and use of prior knowledge, (e) changing strategies when appropriate, and (f) monitoring understanding and taking action to enhance comprehension. Ideally students who have progressed through formal education systems to the college level have acquired such tactics, strategies and self-regulative skills that direct and enhance their ability to learn. However, students may enter post-secondary level institutions without knowledge of and previous practice with these skills and strategies (Schumacker & Sayler, 1995).
Additionally, there seems to be a tradition of bias in the American educational system toward individual accountability and responsibility (Meinster & Rose, 1993). This would seem to inhibit adoption of and engagement in cooperative learning endeavors, even though the benefits have been repeatedly demonstrated. However, studies repeatedly show that cooperative and collaborative learning environments enhance both classroom climate and student performance (e.g., Aronson, Stephan, Blaney, Sikes, & Snapp, 1978; Webb, 1997).
The basis for much of the cooperative learning movement originates from the work of Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky (1978) believed that social interactions are the foundation of cognitive development. Through the utilization of cultural sign systems, of which language is the most pervasive and efficient, students help each other learn conceptual material. Often they learn just as well or better during these peer interactions as they would if teachers work with students. Vigorous cooperative engagement improves learning (Duffy & Bednar, 1991; Kember & Murphy, 1990;Vygotsky, 1978). It follows that debate, negotiation, and discussion regarding conceptual material would be effective ways to increase student learning, improve reasoning and facilitate the development of improved learning strategies and new knowledge that they might not gain independently (Damon & Phelps, 1989; Gabbert, Johnson, & Johnson, 1987; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1990). Research has shown that cooperative learning techniques are positively associated with (a) performance on academic tasks (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1990), (b) student self-esteem and student attitudes toward school (Slavin, 1991), and (c) reduced test anxiety (Meinster & Rose, 1993). …