Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Conceptual Tutoring Software for Promoting Deep Learning: A Case Study

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Conceptual Tutoring Software for Promoting Deep Learning: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) Natural Sciences (NS) methods course is part of a single-year program which qualifies graduates to teach in grades 4 to 9 in South Africa as generalists of various subjects. Little of the class contact-time can be used to develop content knowledge since the course has a pedagogical focus. Also, the large range in content knowledge among the students makes it difficult to pitch content teaching at a level beneficial to all the students. Therefore, individually-paced electronic tutoring is potentially an effective way of meeting the students' varied learning needs. There is evidence that conceptually-oriented tutoring software can be effective in helping students to engage in deep conceptual learning (e.g. She & Liao, 2010). The existing literature on use of such software to promote deep conceptual learning, including research previously done on the particular software used in this study, iQuiz (Stott & Case, 2014), has almost exclusively been quantitative and experimental in nature. In this case study we sought to address this gap in the literature through a rich, primarily qualitative study of students' learning experiences and behavioural choices during their extended engagement with conceptual tutoring software. This occurred during a module, within the PGCE NS methods course, designed to teach the scientific concept of density. The research is guided by the questions: (1) "Is deep learning evident when student teachers engage with a module on density using conceptual tutoring software?," (2) "What design features of this module are effective in promoting deep learning?"

Literature review

Effective tutoring provides individualised formative feedback of a small enough grain-size to support a learner to remain engaged in learning for long enough to think through all the steps required for mastery (VanLehn, 2011). Grain size refers to 'the amount of reasoning required of participants between opportunities to interact' (p. 203). VanLehn calls electronic tutors (e-tutors) which offer individualised feedback of a very fine grain size sub-step intelligent tutoring systems (ITSs). A number of ITSs have been developed and researched, with generally high levels of success reported. Almost all of these ITSs provide support for learners solving problems (Mitrovic & Weerasinghe, 2009), particularly algorithmic-based problems. A few guide learners to solve more ill-structured problems (Fournier-Viger, Nkambou, & Nguifo, 2010) and a few tutor conceptual understanding. These are scarce due to the complexity associated with their creation in terms of both software programming and content which runs on the software (Mitrovic, Martin, & Suraweera, 2007).

In this study we use software which we refer to as a conceptual e-tutor, called iQuiz (iquiz.uct.ac.za), which was developed at a South African university. iQuiz can be created to provide formative feedback of a very fine grain size which differs for different learner responses, and therefore meets VanLehn (2011)'s criteria for potential high effectiveness and inclusion in the ITS category. Most authorities, however, require software to exhibit artificial intelligence (AI) to be called an ITS (e.g. Aleven, Mclaren, Sewall, & Koedinger, 2009). iQuiz does not use AI features, although it can be pre-programmed to respond differently to different user choices at each slide. iQuiz consists of a number of multiple-choice-question-, and information-, slides which are connected to one another by hyperlinks. Some of these slides form a central backbone, traversed if all questions are answered correctly. Other slides form side branches, designed to respond appropriately to a user's incorrect responses in what could be called an electronic dialogue. Content-creation is time-consuming, preferably requires advanced pedagogical and conceptual content knowledge and skill, but does not require programming knowledge and is highly flexible. …

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