Clues to Online Learning
Steif, Paul, Dollár, Anna, ASEE Prism
AS MANY experienced educators can attest, good students seem to know when they're learning. They are the ones in class who are able to formulate and ask questions that pinpoint an issue they don't understand. How students monitor and reflect on their ability to absorb material takes on added significance with the growing availability of online instructional materials. Such courseware has enormous potential to engage students beyond the classroom and provides an important learning alternative for those who can't be reached through lectures and expository texts. But online materials may be only as good as the extent to which they encourage students to regulate themselves and monitor what they learn.
Our research joined the concept of selfregulation, known to be relevant in other learning contexts, to courseware assessment. We tested whether learning gains are related to total usage of courseware or to usage suggestive of self-regulation. On-line interactive materials can support self-regulation more actively than purely expository materials and even traditional homework sets. They can prompt students at various points to respond to questions and perform various tasks, thus providing the students immediate feedback on their performance.
Our study used a Web-based Engineering Statics courseware that we had developed. Since statics is a subject that requires solving problems as well as understanding concepts, larger tasks have been dissected and then presented using carefully designed sequences of short text, graphics, and videos. Also embedded into the course are about 300 virtual "tutors." These are online learning tools designed based on cognitive principles to interact with students in ways that mimic a human tutor - i.e., offering hints, giving feedback when the student errs, suggesting what to do next, and maintaining a low profile when the student is performing well.
The system on which the courseware runs maintains log files of all student interactions. To address the research question, students in a lecture-based statics course were assigned to use the courseware as part of homework assignments, and to take paper-andpencil diagnostic quizzes both before and after online instruction. …