How to increase Students' Information Retention

Contributed by:
Jonathan James
The online tutoring program, Mastering Nutrition, was implemented as a required portion of an entry-level collegiate nutrition course. The Mastering Nutrition program incorporates effective teaching pedagogies that initiate information transfer and retention. To test the ability of tutoring programs to increase student learning outcomes, a set of questions specific to course learning objectives were asked of students in two consecutive semesters. Questions were administered to students in a pretest, in the final exam, and in posttest 4-6 months after course completion. Repeated measures analysis of variance reported no significant difference for posttest scores when compared to control scores, p=.595. Pretest data compared to posttest data indicated improvement in student outcomes on the final test for students with the lowest preliminary scores with the implementation of Mastery.
1. Utah State University
All Graduate Theses and Dissertations Graduate Studies
Implementation of Online Tutoring Program to Increase University
Student Information Retention
April Litchford
Utah State University
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2. i
IMPLEMENTATION OF ONLINE TUTORING PROGRAM TO INCREASE
UNIVERSITY STUDENT INFORMATION RETENTION
by
April Litchford
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree
of
MASTER OF SCIENCE
in
Nutrition and Food Sciences
__________________________ ________________________
Heidi Wengreen Marlene Israelsen
Major Professor Committee Member
__________________________ __________________________
Brian Belland Mark R. McLellen
Committee Member Vice President of research and
Dean of the School of Graduate Studies
UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY
Logan, Utah
2015
3. ii
Copyright © April Litchford 2015
All Rights Reserved
4. iii
ABSTRACT
Implementation of Online Tutoring Program to Increase University Student Information
Retention
by
April Litchford, Master of Science
Utah State University, 2015
Major Professor Heidi Wengreen
Department: Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences
Online tutoring program, Mastering Nutrition©, was implemented as a required
portion of an entry level collegiate nutrition course. The Mastering Nutrition program
incorporates effective teaching pedagogies that initiate information transfer and retention.
To test the ability of tutoring program to increase student learning outcomes, a set of
questions specific to course learning objectives were asked of students in two consecutive
semesters. Questions were administered to students in a pretest, in the final exam, and in
a posttest 4-6 months after course completion. Repeated measures analysis of variance
reported no significant difference for posttest scores when compared to control scores,
p=.595. Pretest data compared to posttest data indicated improvement in student
outcomes on the final test for students with the lowest preliminary scores with
implementation of Mastery©. (78 Pages)
5. iv
PUBLIC ABSTRACT
Increasing Learning Potential in Entry Level Nutrition Students Through Online Tutorial
April Litchford
This thesis discusses an online tutoring program, MasteringNutrition©, that was
implemented as a required portion of an entry level collegiate nutrition course. The
tutoring program was introduced to test the ability of the program to improve memory of
nutrition information taught during the course. The MasteringNutrition© program
combines various teaching techniques that have been successful in increasing student
learning. The major techniques discussed include: Socratic questioning, metacognition,
and problem based learning. These techniques are incorporated into the
MasteringNutrition© program.
To test the effect of the Mastering© tutoring program, ten questions specific to
course learning objectives were asked of students in two consecutive semesters. The
questions were administered to students in a pretest survey, in the final exam, and in a
posttest 4-6 months after course completion. Test scores for both semesters improved, on
average, from pretest to final test to posttest. Collected data was analyzed using a
statistical program (SPSS). Results of analysis indicated no significant difference in the
groups tested over time. Researchers concluded that MasteringNutrition© did not
increase student memory of learned concepts. However, further analysis of specific data
revealed that students who scored lowest on the pretest reported higher final test and
posttest scores when they used the Mastery© program.
6. v
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The completion of this thesis would not have been possible without the help of
Dr. Heidi Wengreen. I would like to thank her for inspiring me to look at the process of
education as it applies to nutrition students. I found much value in the knowledge I
obtained through conducting my research, writing this thesis, and teaching in the
classroom. She gave me a great gift for my future in allowing me a comprehensive
experience including research and practice. My future success as an educator will depend
largely on what I have learned these past few semesters.
Many thanks must also be extended to my husband and children. Thank you for
being so patient with me as I have pursued this degree. Your support and love have been
the reason that I have kept moving forward.
April Litchford
7. vi
CONTENTS
Page
PUBLIC ABSTRACT……………………………………………………………………iv
LIST OF TABLES………………………………………………………………………..vi
LIST OF FIGURES……………………………………………………………………...vii
I. ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING RETENTION WHEN ONLINE TUTORIALS
ARE COMBINED WITH HYBRID DESIGN CLASS..……………………….1
ABSTRACT……………………………………………………………….2
PROBLEM STATEMENT………………………………………………..2
BACKGROUND………………………………………..………………...3
OBJECTIVES……………………………………………………………10
RESEARCH QUESTIONS……………………………………………...10
REFERENCES……...…………………………………………...............11
II. REVIEW OF INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS USED IN ONLINE TUTORING
PROGRAM THAT CREATE EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE TRANSFER OF
INFORMATION FROM INSTRUCTOR TO STUDENT….…………..……13
INTRODUCTION…...…….……….……………………………………14
SOCRATIC LEARNING METHOD……...…...…………….……….....15
META COGNITION (SELF DIRECTED LEARNING)………………. 22
PROBLEM BASED LEARNING………...………………………..........32
CONCLUSION……...…………..……………………………………….39
REFERENCES………………..………………………………….….…..39
III. INCREASING LEARNING POTENTIAL IN ENTRY LEVEL NUTRITION
STUDENTS THROUGH ONLINE TUTORIAL..…………………………43
INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………….44
METHODS………………………………………………………………49
RESULTS…………………………………………………………..……56
DISCUSSION……….…..…………………………………….…………60
REFERENCES…………………………………………………………..64
IV. SUMMARY……………………………………………………………….……67
8. vii
9. viii
LIST OF TABLES
Table Page
1. Learning Objectives Used to Categorize Test Questions......................................51
2. Total Responses Collected for Pretest, Final Test, and Posttest…....……...….....52
3. Sample Posttest Email……….. ……...………………………..……..…………..53
4. Learning Objectives Used to Categorize Questions for Pre, Final, Posttest ........54
5. Descriptive Statistics for Study Participants by Group……..…….…..………… 56
6. Paired sample t-test results…………...……………...……………………….......57
7. Enrollment Data for NDFS 1020 2009-2013…………...…..……...…………….68
10. ix
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure Page
3.1 Repeated measures analysis by group……………...…………………………… 58
3.2 Repeated measures analysis for split variable……...........…………….……….. 60
11. 1
CHAPTER I
ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING RETENTION WHEN ONLINE TUTORIALS
ARE COMBINED WITH HYBRID DESIGN CLASS
Objectives: Investigate the potential of an online tutoring program to improve learning
outcomes of students enrolled in an introductory nutrition course.
Methods: Research was conducted in an attempt to understand which types of teacher
pedagogy were most successful in creating efficient information transfer from instructor
to student. Research was also conducted to identify several innovative instructional
techniques that increase learning retention in students. Research was conducted over the
following areas: blended courses, online courses, interactive white boards, computer
aided instruction, and online tutorial programs.
Results: Research suggests that incorporating a combination of instructional techniques
is most successful. Blended, or hybrid, courses were shown to be the most successful in
increasing final exam scores and overall learning retention. An online tutorial program
Mastering©, developed by a large publishing company Pearson, was successful in
increasing student success in courses of various disciplines.
Conclusions/Implications: Evidence supports the structure of a proposed research
project. The use of an online tutorial program in connection with a hybrid design course
could prove effective in increasing overall course success and learning retention.
12. 2
Opinions vary as to which methods of transferring information from instructor to
student are the most effective. The perceived success of one specific teaching method is
debatable, but significant evidence has shown that multiple methods of teaching
combined together can enhance learning and retention rates in students. This study will
explore improvements in education retention that are possible when an online tutoring
component is added to a hybrid design class. A hybrid course requires students spend
half of their instruction time in a classroom with the instructor, and the other half working
through tutorials and assignments online. Students who have completed a beginning
hybrid nutrition course will be asked to take a quiz, testing nutrition knowledge based on
course objectives, 4-6 months after course completion. We hypothesize that scores from
the students that used the online tutorial will be significantly higher than students that did
not have access to the tutorial during their course experience.
PROBLEM STATEMENT
College students face enormous pressure to perform in order to meet required
grades for various academic programs. Many times the information needed to perform
well on assessments is memorized and quickly forgotten. Studies have shown that using
various teaching techniques to present course material increases overall assessment
scores and retention of learned information.1,2 Retention of knowledge gained during a
course of study has the ability to impact the lives of students in future endeavors.
This is especially pertinent for students who study nutrition and health behaviors.
The majority of students who take introductory nutrition courses at the college level are
13. 3
incoming freshman, young adults ages 18-21. This population deals with high levels of
weight gain, poor dietary habits, and inconsistent physical inactivity.3 The amount of
weight gain seen in young adults 18-29 has increased steadily over the past decade.3
Increased weight gain during these young adult years may lead students to be overweight
or obese later in life, which could have direct impact on overall health.3
Several recent studies looked at the effect of online education based interventions
designed to improve dietary behaviors.3,4 The interventions included education, caloric
and physical activity tracking, and discussion groups. Each intervention, while unique in
its execution, showed marked improvement in treatment groups.3,4 The results of these
studies suggest that online nutrition education programs have the ability to motivate
behavior change. The idea of interactive, technology based activities has become an
innovative way to present information to students in college courses.5,6 While the level
of learning retention measured in students depends on the technology used, most
technology based intervention report at least the same level of learning reported in
traditional (lecture based) course structures.6
Education theories have changed and developed over the past few decades. The
traditional method of teaching has been, almost exclusively, presentation of information
to students through lecture. Lecture style teaching creates a passive learning
environment where students are expected to sit quietly and absorb the information
presented by the instructor. In the early 1950’s educators began to challenge the idea that
not all students learned best through presentations or lectures.7 The idea of active
14. 4
learning was defined as instructors began to identify that students gained more
knowledge when information was presented in ways other than lecture.7 These unique
ways were classified into “learning styles” and educators began to tailor lessons and
activities to involve as many styles as possible.7 Learning styles were defined as the way
a student concentrates on, processes, and internalizes the information presented to them.
Each individual student was considered unique in how they processed information, but
there were some general categories developed that instructors used to increase learning
potential in all of their students.7 Though learning styles were an innovative way to
address every student’s unique perspective on learning, they still classified students and
forced learning to occur as the teacher dictated.
To address this lack of individuality educators began to compartmentalize
teaching into small groups of students in order to promote inquiry based learning.7 In this
instructional method teachers became guides, facilitators, and counselors in order to
allow students to dictate their own learning.2,7 Academic professionals began to argue for
reform in education, they contended that student discovery is a basic and necessary
component to education.2 As student guided learning began to prove effective further
research studies concluded that there was a potential link between learning and the
physical senses.7 Teachers were able to increase overall conceptual understanding in
students when they included activities that stimulated sight, hearing, and touch.7,8 These
theories address the fact that students learn in connection with their emotions, that
boredom, excitement, apathy, etc. can pave channels in a student’s memory.9 Teaching
methods are still evolving as educators seek ways to improve and enhance the amount of
15. 5
information that can be disseminated in the most efficient manner.7 One technique that
remained constant through all of the changes in theory is repetition.
Repetition is a vital component in teaching/learning. In order for the human
mind to learn and understand a new concept the concept must be shown over and over
again.10 Yet mere repetition does not elicit the greatest amount of learning and
understanding, repetition with correction has been shown to strengthen overall
understanding.10 Also, repetition of the same material presented through different
methods increases the amount of information a student is able to absorb and understand.10
Because repetition is necessary for effective learning to take place, teaching methods are
constantly changing to include new and innovative ways to present a concept.
One such method is through the use of technology in various forms, i.e. On-line
activities, interactive teaching boards (IWB), games, videos, animations, etc. Technology
allows for creative and unique ways to introduce information to students and has
enhanced learning experiences in many settings.5,8 A recent study looked at the use of
interactive teaching boards (IWB) as a way to improve student understanding and
retention of material.5 This study concluded that when IWB was used as part of the
learning process students scored significantly higher on an assessment given 4-6 months
after completion of a language course than did students that were taught with a traditional
Another study, involving computer aided instruction (CAI), looked at the level of
retention gained through use the use of CAI.11 The study included 136 middle school age
students in a traditional, lecture type classroom. The students in the study were divided
into two groups, treatment and control. Both groups were taught the same information on
16. 6
physics through lecture. The treatment group received added instruction in the form of
CAI over the course of one academic year.11 The control group received added
instruction through a supplemental instruction course taught by a teaching assistant. Two
assessments were given to the participants, one immediately following the end of the
study. The same assessment was administered again five moths post study.11 The results
of the study showed a significant increase in the treatment groups final assessment test
scores (p=.00) and post assessment scores (p=.00).11
Technology in its various forms can improve education in some cases, but
education completed exclusively using technology does not always transfer information
as desired from educator to student.1,7 A meta-analysis looked at the effectiveness of
exclusively online learning compared to traditional face-to-face learning.6 The analysis
included 50 independent studies; 27 studies focused on online vs. face-to-face instruction
and 23 studies focused on blended instruction (online and lecture) vs. face-to-face
instruction.6 The study reported no significant improvement in overall assessment scores
(p=.46) when using exclusively online technology based education methods. One major
concern about online learning is the removal of community during the education
process.6 Many seasoned educators believe that classroom community, the idea that the
students in a specific course help one another grasp complex concepts, is the key to
comprehensive learning.6 Other traditionalist educators believe that learning has always
been effective through lectures; their argument is strengthened by adequate assessment
scores in lecture style classes.7 Some would argue that adequate is not acceptable. Many
institutions of learning encourage the use of teaching methods that will help students
excel rather than settle for adequate.
17. 7
The debate over which form of learning is more effective has led educators to
develop and study a new form of instruction. Hybrid or blended learning is a
combination of face-face instruction with online technology.6 The meta-analysis study
mentioned earlier in this paper discussed 23 studies that focused on blended (hybrid)
courses in comparison to traditional courses.6 The study reported a significant difference
in teaching methods, p=<.001.6 Researchers concluded that a combination of lecture and
online interaction is most effective for student learning and retention of learning.6 Hybrid
teaching is evolving at a rapid rate and is proving to be an effective method of education.
Due to the success of hybrid education, new ideas on how to make the hybrid
experience better and more effective are being tested. One such idea was inspired by the
Socratic method of teaching.12 A Socratic teaching method is based on ideas formed by
Socrates many centuries in the past. This teaching method includes trial and error,
questioning of absolute thoughts, and progressive suggestions to build lasting ideas.13
The Socratic design reveals to students what they don’t know through subtle hints or
suggestions. This, in theory, inspires the student to develop their own ideas and creates
in the student a greater ability to retain what they have learned.13
Hybrid courses are proving capable of increasing learning potential and they
allow for larger enrollments per course. Demand for the Nutrition 1020 course at Utah
State University has grown steadily since 2010. The completion of this course fills a life
science graduation requirement for students. It is seen as a desirable option when
compared to other course choices. Students also tend to choose this nutrition course
because it teaches concepts applicable to their current lifestyle. In order to accommodate
the growing demand for this course, instructors and administrators opted to offer the
18. 8
course as a hybrid. While this course is now capable of enrolling large amounts of
students, there is still some dissatisfaction with performance outcomes. Instructors have
continued to research other instructional options that could increase satisfaction with
course outcomes. One promising area of learning enhancement was found in online
tutorial programs.
Recently, a large textbook publisher developed a program for online homework
and tutorial helps.14 One feature of this program is the ability that students have to
answer questions multiple times. This type of response pattern was investigated in a
recent study.15 The study used results from assessments given to 142 Newtonian physics
students enrolled in an institute of technology. The students were allowed multiple
attempts on the assessment, with hints provided for wrong answers.15 Researchers used a
predetermined scale to rank the changes in skill of each individual student from their first
attempt to their second attempt.15 There was a significant improvement in second attempt
quiz scores as compared to first attempt, p=.02.15 Researchers concluded that the
improvement was due to a few factors. Students were offered tutorial hints in both
quizzes but were penalized each time they used the optional help tab.15 Students
demonstrated less knowledge associated with concepts during the first attempt and used
the help option more.15 Secondly, there was more tutorial help available to students
during the second quiz attempt. Researchers feel that these extended tutorials allowed
students to cement a concept due to the expanded information available during their
second attempt.15
Success of online tutorials has created a market for available programs. Pearson
Education released a line of educational, technology based components that are designed
19. 9
to enhance the learning experience. Pearson is a large publishing company based in the
United States that leads the market in education, business information, and consumer
publishing.14 Pearson’s MyLabs and Mastering© programs are offered in a wide range of
subjects from English to economics to physical science.14 The cost of the
MasteringNutrition© program is reasonable and can be assessed to students through
course fees.
A recent study offered insight into one of Pearson’s tutorial programs.16 This
study offered MasteringBiology© activities as required homework for an introductory
biology class at Monash University.16 The assignments were required as part of the class
grade but they did not have a time limit for completion. Assignments were available for
one week at a time.16 This format helped to even the gap in the level of prior knowledge
that students may have possessed before the class began. Students with a good amount of
prior knowledge coming into the course were able to complete the assignments faster
than those with little or no prior knowledge.16 Also, students who lacked prior
knowledge of the subject were able to learn in a low pressure environment according to
their individual learning needs.
The study also reported that the use of Mastering© significantly increased
(p=<.001) assessment scores for all concepts taught in this course. Scores on weekly
mini quizzes for each unit given after lectures, reading quizzes, and mastery assignments
were completed rose 7%-15% compared to a previous class that did not include
Mastering© assignments.16 There was also a significant jump in final assessment scores,
final averages for the Mastering© group was 61% where the year without Mastering©
was 59%.16
20. 10
Hybrid learning has improved student outcomes, and Pearson’s Mastery activities
have been effective in helping students learn and retain more information than through
traditional education.14,15,16 It seems logical that combining these two methods could
enhance the learning experience beyond what has already been seen among student
populations. By combining many different types of learning, in many different settings,
every student should find one method that will give them the best chance at a productive,
thorough education.
To assess difference in student’s retention of information taught in NDFS 1020
course that will be taught in a hybrid design before and after introducing online
assignments that utilize the Socratic teaching method known as MasteringNutrition.
RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1) Will students demonstrate retention of basic nutrition concepts on a post assessment
taken 4-6 months after completing a basic nutrition course without Mastering Nutrition
2) Will students demonstrate retention of basic nutrition concepts on a post assessment
taken 4-6 months after completing a basic nutrition course with Mastering Nutrition
3) Do students who participate in MasteringNutrition retain more information 4-6 months
after taking the course as compared to students who do not participate in Mastering
21. 11
4) Does the placement of the MasteringNutrition assignments within the course design
influence retention of basic nutrition concepts on a post assessment taken 4-6 months
after completing the course.
1. Angiello, R. Study looks at online learning vs. traditionai instruction. Education
Digest. 2010;76:56-59.
2. Teater B. Maximizing student learning: a case example of applying teaching and
learning theory in social work education. Social Work Educ. 2011;30:571-585.
3. Greaney ML, Less FD, White AA, et al. College students' barriers and enablers for
healthful weight management: a qualitative study. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2009;41:281-6.
4. Gow RW, Trace SE, Mazzeo SE. Preventing weight gain in first year college
students: An online intervention to prevent the “freshman fifteen”. Eating Behav.
5. Xu HL, Maloney R. It makes the whole learning experience better: student feedback
on the use of the interactive whiteboard in learning chinese at tertiary level. Asian Soc
Sci. 2011;7:20-34.
6. Means B., Toyama Y, Murphy R, et al. The effectiveness of online and blended
learning: a meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record.
7. Jennings M. In Defense of the sage on the stage: escaping from the “sorcery” of
learning styles and helping students learn how to learn. J Legal Stud Educ. 2012;29:191-
8. Chen C.M, Sun YC. Assessing the effects of different multimedia materials on
emotions and learning performance for visual and verbal style learners. Computers &
Educ. 2012;59:1273-1285.
9. McMillian WJ. ‘Your thrust is to understand’ how academically successful students
learn. Teaching Higher Educ. 2010;15;1.
10. Saville, K. Strategies for using repetition as a powerful teaching tool. Music Educ J.
2011; 98:69-75.
22. 12
11. Izzett K. The Effect on Retention of Computer Assisted Instruction in Science
Education. J of Instructional Psychol. 2008;35:357-364.
12. Warnakulasooriya R, Palazzo DJ, Pritchard D. Evidence of problem-solving transfer
in web-based Socratic tutor. Published in the Proc of the 2005 Physics Education
Research Conf. 2005:41-43.
13. Boghossian, P. Socratic pedagogy: perplexity, humiliation, shame and a broken egg.
Educational Philosophy and Theory. 2012;44:710-720.
14. Aspey S. Demand grows for Pearson's online learning programs. Ednetnews Online.
15. Lee YJ, Palazzo DJ, Warnakulasooriya R, et al. Measuring student learning with
item response theory. Phys Educ Res. 2008:1-6.
16. Rayner, G. Evaluation and student perception of ‘MasteringBiology’ as a learning
and formative assessment tool in a first year Biology subject. School of Biolog Sciences,
Monash Univ. 2008.
23. 13
CHAPTER II
REVIEW OF INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS USED IN ONLINE TUTORING
PROGRAM THAT CREATE EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE TRANSFER OF
INFORMATION FROM INSTRUCTOR TO STUDENT
Objective: Research teaching pedagogy and instructional techniques integrated into
online tutoring program that create efficient and effective information transfer from
instructor to student.
Methods: Research was conducted to identify several modes of teaching/learning that
increase overall student performance and knowledge retention. The studies reported in
this paper increase understanding about three defined teaching methods; Socratic
learning, metacognition, and problem based learning.
Results: Teacher pedagogy discussed in this paper has been effective in information
transfer from instructor to student. Significant improvement in test scores, student
learning perceptions, and critical thinking levels are documented in using a variety of
different assessments. Conclusions across many different disciplines have been positive
and lend credibility to educator efforts to offer innovative course structures and
instructional techniques.
Conclusions/Implications: Use of varied and innovative instructional techniques has the
potential to increase student understanding of desired material and increase overall
learning retention.
24. 14
The transfer of information from educator to pupil is done in various ways, and
through various instructional techniques. Opinions concerning which techniques are
most effective vary widely. The perceived success of a single specific teaching pedagogy
is debatable, and depends largely on the experiences of the educator/student. While
opinions vary, significant evidence continues to be collected emphasizing increased
information transfer from teacher to student when multiple methods of teaching are used
in conjunction.
The most traditional method of information transfer has long been a lecture based
system. Lecture based teaching dates back to early Grecian times, but in the early 1950’s
educators began to realize that not all students learn best through presentations or
lectures.1 Teaching systems that use lecture as the primary method of information
transfer create a passive learning experience for students. The idea of active learning
began to be defined, as instructors began to recognize that all students learn in unique
ways.1 These unique modes of learning were classified into “learning styles” and
educators began to tailor lessons and activities to involve as many styles as possible.1
Though learning styles were an innovative way to address every student’s unique needs
regarding learning, they still classified students and forced learning to occur as the
teacher dictated.
To address this lack of individuality educators began to compartmentalize
teaching into small groups in order to promote inquiry based learning.1 Inquiry based
learning relies on student generated questions, there is little to no lecturing. In this
system teachers became guides, facilitators, and counselors in order to allow students to
25. 15
guide their own learning.1, 2 Studies have shown that student discovery is a basic and
necessary component to education.2 Discovery allows the student to form ideas in their
own way instead of in the way an instructor chooses to explain the idea to them. This
gives the student ownership of the idea and increases their ability to store and retrieve the
information when necessary.2
In the past few decades, active learning has been a common topic of discussion.
Universities are looking at ways to change current teaching systems to better serve their
students.1 A few common themes seen throughout current research include; the Socratic
learning method, the idea of metacognition, and the use of problem based learning.
These forms of teaching are helping colleges address differences in student learning and
meet demand for innovative course designs.1 This paper will explore these techniques
and teacher pedagogy that are intended to allow for active student discovery.
SOCRATIC LEARNING METHOD
The Socratic teaching method is based on ideas formed by Socrates many
centuries in the past. Socrates was an early Greek philosopher that lived from 469-499
BC. He was a renowned teacher using teaching methods that were innovative and
effective.1 Socrates used open forum questioning to guide the learning of his students.
When the Socratic teaching method is used correctly it can include experiences that
require trial and error, questioning of absolute thoughts, and progressive suggestions that
build on each other to form lasting ideas.3 The Socratic design reveals to students what
they do not understand completely through subtle hints or suggestions, requiring students
26. 16
to question the ideas being presented to them.4 This inspires the student to develop their
own ideas and creates in the student a greater ability to retain what they have learned.3
Often students reject this method of teaching because it requires preparation and
fore thought. Because a lecture based courses is the traditional form of education,
students have become accustomed to absorbing information as it is presented by the
instructor. Most students will not question information given to them from the instructor,
making the teacher the key to changing this habit of learning.5 An effective teacher can
inspire students to ask questions and think deeply about the concepts being presented.
One way to do this is to create a class culture that requires all students to engage in
thought provoking questions. This will give the student the ability to challenge
assumptions made by the instructor and other class members. It will motivate the student
to see inconsistencies in the information presented to them and motivate the student to
ask why.5 Challenging a student to discover knowledge for themselves allows them to
“reinvent knowledge”.5 Every individual learns in a unique way, when they gain
knowledge for themselves their understanding of the subject is different from their peers.
Each student will gain a unique perspective through active questioning that could
possibly add innovation to current ideas and concepts.5
The major driving idea behind a Socratic teaching style is thoughtful questioning.6
Thoughtful questioning has been shown to enhance critical thinking abilities in students.
The active interaction of asking questions and forming new questions allows the student
to explore every nuance of a subject. Students learn as they develop questions and
receive answers to their questions. This circular thinking exercise has been shown to
improve student ability in critical thinking; advancing student ability to face real-life
27. 17
situations with ease and innovation.6 Many educators believe that Socratic teaching has
the ability to develop critical thinking among their students.6
This technique has been successful across many disciplines, but care must be
taken as instructors begin questioning exercises. Two recent studies looked at the types
of questioning occurring in a clinical teaching setting.7 The majority of the questions
asked by faculty members, as high as 91% of questions posed in the classroom, were
determined to be lower-order questions. Lower-order questions fail to produce deep
thinking that leads to cognitive improvement, and are often spontaneous.7 Correct
Socratic questioning includes stratification of inquiries. This requires advanced planning
of questions that will be asked and when they will be asked. The questions must build on
each other to emphasize basic concepts, while guiding students to expand their
knowledge towards more complex ideas.7
Student led questions have also shown to be an effective exercise in deepening
student understanding.7 The same studies mentioned above also explored the
effectiveness of student generated questioning. The instructors in these studies were able
to generate conceptual understanding by making declarative statements that would
encourage students to ask questions.7 This exercise in forced questioning was especially
effective when there seemed to be no easy answer to the question. This required student
and teacher to work together to discover the solution.7 The researchers concluded that
students exhibit greater complex thinking and engagement in various subjects when
student questioning is part of the learning experience.7
Another study looked at the type of questioning that occurred among elementary
students in Ontario, Canada. Four different elementary classrooms of second and third
28. 18
graders were studied. The purpose of the study was to assess the effectiveness of
different types and levels of questioning.8 The students were asked to sort questions into
two categories: surface and deeper. A surface question was defined as one that would
prompt students to imitate, recall, or apply knowledge as taught by a teacher.8 Deeper
questions were defined as questions that cause students to create, analyze, or evaluate.
These questions tend to be open ended and divergent in nature.8 The activity of sorting
was an attempt to teach students how to generate deep, or productive, questions that
would help them gain the knowledge they were seeking. One of the major criteria
required for this questioning included open ended questions. An open-ended question
requires the respondents to give details, and/or provide an explanation.8
After students had a basic understanding of the type of questions needed for
deeper understanding, each classroom was given the same problem to solve as a
collective group. The teachers initiated discussions with a few questions and then, with
the help of research assistants, recorded the questions that students asked to the teacher
and their peers. After the activity had concluded the researchers separated the questions
recorded into three categories; surface, deeper, or unclear.8 The students were retaught
the idea of deep questioning and the groups were again given a common problem to
solve. The researchers continued to record questions and sort them into the designated
This method of deep questioning and free discussion was then implemented in the
targeted classrooms for a few more weeks. At the end of the time allotted for the study,
students were given a common problem to solve and the type of questioning used by
students was recorded.8 When data was compiled and analyzed the percent of deep
29. 19
questions asked by students had increased by 40%. It was also noticed that the amount of
questions asked by students increased dramatically during the post test.8 Researchers
concluded that as the student’s ability to form clear questions and answers increased
through this exercise. Researchers also noticed that the writing ability of students
became more clear and concise.8 This strengthened the theory that student understanding
of key topics increased as the quality of individual inquisition increased.8 Although the
use of questioning may have shown a positive increase in student understanding, the
question still remains whether students perceive this method as effective to their overall
One study explored the difference between lecture based learning and Socratic
based learning.9 Subjects were undergraduate students (n= 227) enrolled in an
introductory public relations course at a southern American university. Students were
assigned to either the traditional lecture style course or a course using a modified Socratic
method. Students self-selected into the courses without prior knowledge of the course
structure.9 Pre and post questionnaires were used to assess any difference in the groups.
Focus groups of randomly chosen students (n=50) were also held to assess effectiveness
of the courses. The Socratic based course required students to complete assigned
readings before class. The instructor then used well placed questions to conduct a
discussion of the problem the student’s needed to solve.9
Assessments for the courses included essays and multiple choice questions based
around the principles discussed in the readings and discussions/lectures during class.
Significant increase was seen in the critical thinking and problem solving skills of the
Socratic students (p= <.01).9 Many of the students in the Socratic section reported that
30. 20
more opportunities to think critically helped them develop skills that allowed them to be
successful in this type of learning (<.05).9 The factual knowledge gained by both groups
did not vary significantly; the only major significance seen seemed to be in the ability of
the Socratic learners to solve problems better than the lecture based students (p=<.05).9
Problem solving through critical thinking is the goal of most technical courses.
How this can be achieved was studied in a quasi-experimental study that compared
Socratic inquiry based method with traditional lecture method.10 Two different sections
of the same course were taught; each course was taught by the same instructor and used
the same textbook. Identical topics were covered by each section. One section of the
course was presented as a didactic lecture; the other was presented in a case-study
format.10 The case-study format included three elements; clinical case studies, group
work, and lecture/content discussions. In the lecture format the students were instructed
through conventional lecture practice which elicited very little student interaction.10 The
study was conducted over two consecutive years, covering three different sections.
Students were evaluated for increase of critical thinking skills through pre and post-tests;
students were also analyzed for exam and course grade performance.10
The results of this study reported marked increases in favor of the Socratic
teaching method. Final exam scores were significantly higher than the didactic students
(p=.001). Overall, when using Socratic questioning students had 12% higher final exam
scores and 11% higher final grade scores than the didactic students.10 The study used a
renowned critical thinking test called, California Critical Thinking Skills Test. This test
has been used in several other studies and has been deemed effective by experts in the
field of psychology.10 The didactic students that took this test only gained three national
31. 21
percentile ranks where the Socratic students gained 7.5 percentile ranks (p=.001).10 The
marked improvement in critical thinking scores and overall final grades lends credibility
to Socratic pedagogy.
While Socratic pedagogy has shown to be an effective way to disseminate
information, student preference of teaching methods is also a concern for many
educators. A cross-sectional study was conducted to determine class structure preference
in a medical school in India. Due to high enrollment in this area, administrators needed
a teaching method that would be effective despite large class sizes.11 Second and third
year medical students were asked to rank the types of teaching methods they were
subjected to in the classroom on a Likert scale. The sample included 286 students, with
56% of the students being female.11 The lectures that were given to these students
followed the Socratic pattern and were preferred over didactic lectures. Further
comments revealed that students felt the didactic lectures to be boring and monotonous.11
Students in the study felt that the Socratic questioning improved their thinking and gave
them the ability to voice their opinion.11
A few other studies reported similar results as the study above. All tested
preference among students and all of the studies found that Socratic pedagogy was
preferred by students.10,12,13 Socratic questioning was also more effective than the lecture
based didactic method of teaching.10,12,13 Comments from the respective studies gave
explanation for student preference. Students felt that Socratic structure forced them to be
active and alert through the whole lecture. It was also noted that the active participation
helped the students to feel that they knew the subject matter better than if information
was delivered to them through didactic lectures.13 The active participation encouraged by
32. 22
the Socratic pedagogy also created a more enjoyable and engaging learning
environment.10 Not only did preference increase with Socratic teaching, but scores on
tests and assignments were higher than those in a traditional lecture course. In both
studies, the overall test and assignment scores were used as a comparison between the
students taught with Socratic questioning and the students taught with the lecture method.
Both studies reported a significant p-value, <.05.10,13
By encouraging students to think independently instructors give them the ability
to discover their own knowledge. Socratic questioning also allows students the ability to
form innovative ideas because they are not dependent on a teacher telling them what they
should know. They gain an understanding of a topic on a deeper level because they are
forming the knowledge for themselves. Questioning can begin to help students form
knowledge, but they must also be taught how to evaluate the level at which they
META-COGNITION (SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING)
The concept of metacognition embraces the ability of students to measure what
they learn and how they learn it. Metacognition is the idea that students gain more
understanding of concepts when they spend time reflecting on what they have been
taught. Experts contend that there is more value in the student’s evaluation of what they
have learned than in the teaching of the information.14 John Flavell was a developmental
psychologist that defined this learning process and introduced it into the field of
education in the 1970’s. He defines metacognition as follows:
Metacognition refers to one's knowledge concerning one's own cognitive
processes or anything related to them, e.g., the learning-relevant properties of
33. 23
information or data. For example, I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I
am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double
check C before accepting it as fact.14
Additional perspectives have expanded Flavell’s theory to create the idea of
metacognition as it is now defined. This method emphasizes self-regulated learning that
is structured into three distinct steps: planning, monitoring, and evaluating.14 This
method has been effective in helping students create concrete knowledge. The problem
lies in how to teach students to monitor their own learning.14 Educators struggle with
how to present this idea to students and how to assess the effectiveness of their teaching.
They must teach students to understand how they are thinking and introduce effective
study tools that are flexible allowing students to tailor and change the tools to meet their
individual needs. Metacognition is essentially an internal process that is uniquely
individual to every student. This requires a broad teaching style that is inherently
One recent study looked at the effectiveness of electronic response systems for in-
class quizzes. The study included 198 students from a large Southwestern university in
the United States. Three sections of the same undergraduate psychology course were
studied over the course of a semester. The aim of the study was to measure whether use
of Iclickers, as part of a college course, would help students gain higher metacognitive
ability.15 The students were assigned either to Iclickers or paddles, which are a low
technology flashcard system that showed student answers to the instructor. Students
were given the same lecture format by the same lecturer in all sections.15 Students were
asked to answer the same set of questions. If enough students missed the question, the
instructor asked them to collaborate among themselves to determine the correct answer.15
34. 24
In order to measure metacognition, each student was given three surveys; pre, mid-study,
and post. The survey that was used is called MSLQ, it is a survey that has been effective
at measuring metacognition. The MSLQ survey used a metacognitive attribution to
feedback device scale in order to measure changes in metacognition.15
The study reported that mean quiz scores improved steadily during the semester
for both the Iclicker and paddle groups. This suggests that both methods tend to increase
metacognition in students. However, overall performance on quizzes was more
significantly improved with the use of Iclickers.15 Researchers believe that the increase
seen is due, in part, to an increased engagement in the lecture. Iclickers and paddles
required students to be more prepared for the lecture and to stay engaged for the entire
duration of the lecture.15 Researchers also believe that using Iclickers during the lecture
allowed students to be more aware of their metacognition because they provided
immediate feedback on what the student did or did not understand. The MSLQ survey
also showed significant improvement in the Iclicker group (p=.005) and the paddles
group (p=.001), when compared to a control group. The results of the survey suggest that
metacognition can be improved through use of consistent feedback during teaching.15
Another study looked at the effect of using assessments as a way to teach
metacognition.16 This study was based on two examples of a collaborative dialogue
process between students and teachers concerning assessment results. The data used in
this paper was taken from a larger cross-sectional study of K-12 classrooms that studied
5th grade students from a low-income, racially diverse school.16 This type of meta-
cognitive activity helps students to measure their own performance on an assessment,
35. 25
which in turn helps them to look internally to discover what they still do not understand.
This type of questioning is sometimes referred to as data driven dialogue.16
Data driven dialogue (DDD) consists of four parts; predict, explore, explain, and
take action. Students are expected to first, predict the score they think they received on
the assessment before they see their test score. Then students are asked to identify which
items on the assessment fit directly with their individual learning goals and asked how
they felt they did in achieving those goals.16 Students then explain what they did well on
the test and why they received the scores they received. Last, students make goals that
will help them to improve their performance of future assessments.16 This occurred in a
discussion type setting with the class as a whole discussing the learning objectives and
assessing what level of individual understanding they achieved.
In order to measure teaching techniques and student responses, researchers set up
a system of video and audio tapes within the classroom to capture response data. They
also used teacher and student interviews to gather data.16 These recordings were taken
consistently over the two year course of the study. The teacher remained constant during
the study, but there were different students studied. The teacher was required to train for
a year with other experienced (DDD) teachers before beginning the study.16
The tapes from the study were viewed by all of the authors of this paper and were
judged using pre-determined categories to assess changes in student meta-cognition.
Researchers found sufficient evidence to suggest that meta-cognition did improve when
students spent time analyzing their performance on assessments.16 Students were better
able to understand what they had done wrong, and make necessary adjustments to their
learning that would help them perform better on subsequent exams.16 Researchers also
36. 26
found that the dialogue constructed by the class as a whole changed the nature of learning
for the class as a whole. As the students discussed their results as a class they began to
understand that they were responsible for their own learning. The students also began to
understand that they had various resources that they could employ to enhance their
learning, i.e. themselves, the teacher, and their peers.16 While this data is not quantitative
in nature, it does lend valuable insight into possible techniques to improve metacognition.
Due to the internal nature of metacognition, quantitative assessment is difficult as every
individual thinks and learns in a unique way.
Other studies have looked at the effect of self-reflection as a means to measuring
metacognition. Two recent studies used a system of self-reflection and pre-assessment to
increase collegiate level student ability to recognize their individual level of
understanding.17, 18 Formatted reflection sheets were used to keep students moving in the
right frame and avoid deviations from personal performance evaluations. The goal of the
reflection activity was to help students understand their current level of learning as they
were actively learning a new concept.17, 18
The first study was conducted on a small scale and tracked entry level college
students (freshman) over the course of six weeks. A standardized survey was given to
participants before and after the study was conducted.17 A significant increase (p=.001)
was seen in self-reported metacognition over the course of the study. Scores used for
comparison were taken from the results of a common metacognitive assessment tool
called, Metacognitive Awareness Inventory.17
Students also engaged in personal reflection exercises throughout the study. As
part of this self-reflection students were asked to predict their grades on certain
37. 27
assignments and tests.17 This is also a common measure of metacognition. Student
predicted grades were compared to their actual grades to assess improvement in
metacognition.17 A positive correlation of p=.016 was seen in students when compared to
each student’s baseline results.17 Researchers concluded that by the end of the study,
students were more aware of their own individual learning process.17 The self-reflection
exercise seemed to positively impact student metacognition.
The second study was conducted over the course of a semester and included nine
beginning Spanish classes and three beginning French classes at a mid-western university
in the United States.18 This study comprised of 168 freshman level students, with the
French students (n=47) acting as control.18 The class structure for all of the courses was
divided into sections, or units. Each unit began with a series of questions that required
students to rate their confidence with the upcoming subject matter.18 Once the unit was
completed, they were again asked to complete the same survey and a short section on
goal setting. The goal setting section asked students to specifically evaluate their
performance in the past unit and look forward to how they would perform on the next
The results for the actual metacognition were not as concrete as researchers would
have liked. There were some problems with the survey used due to varying levels of
student comprehension.18 However, there was some success seen in the student/teacher
perceived effectiveness of the course. Students and teachers both felt that the reflection
exercises were helpful and productive to the learning process. Also, when student scores
were compared to the control group a significant increase was observed.18 Overall,
researchers felt that the action of monitoring learning through self-reflection enhanced
38. 28
the learning experience for the students in the treatment group of the study.18 Another
study incorporated this idea of self-reflection into an entry level university chemistry
course.19 This study sought to create a more concrete way to quantify increases in
metacognition. Historically studies conducted to measure metacognition have used self-
reported measures to make claims. This study employed a multi-assessment method in
order to produce quantitative data that would produce strong conclusions.19 Participants
were asked to generate self-reports on the progress of their learning. They were also
asked to use two automated instruments to generate data. The first is called
Metacognitive Activities Inventory (MACI) and is based on a 5-point Likert scale, the
second is an online tracking tool called Interactive Multimedia Exercises software
(IMMEX).19 IMMEX uses an HTML platform that tracks participant’s actions while
problem solving. This program has built-in neural networks that provide characterization
of the problem solving abilities of students.19 Both of these surveys have proven to be
robust and reliable measures of metacognition. Each survey was administered to students
as pre and posttests.
The data was collected in three separate phases. In phase one each student was
given a non-chemistry problem to solve with an assigned group. The students were
directed in their problem solving through prompts and collaboration. This phase was
measured with collective reflection on the problem solving experience.19 In the second
phase students were given a choice between two non-chemistry problems. They were
then given fewer prompts from the instructor and asked to solve the problem as
homework. This phase was measured through individual reflection on the process.19 The
last phase asked for general feedback and comments in a common meeting.
39. 29
Little difference was seen in the various tests when participants were compared to
the control group, (p=.07). However, significant changes were seen in the participant’s
pre and post test scores of the MACI and IMMEX surveys (p=<.001).19 It was also
observed that students were more capable of solving the problems posed to them at the
end of the study. This suggests that through the intervention employed by this study,
metacognitive ability increased.19 Researchers concluded that the methods used in this
study were effective in increasing metacognition among college students.
Increasing metacognition is desirable, but does increased metacognition increase a
student’s ability to gain conceptual understanding? One study looked at the relationship
between metacognition and the ability to understand scientific concepts.20 The intent of
the researchers was to build a training program for secondary science teachers that would
help them incorporate metacognition as a skill into their science curriculum. The study
included 28 secondary science teachers and 648 secondary students.20 The study was
conducted in two sections beginning with a professional development course designed to
include discussion about metacognition woven into discussions on scientific concepts. In
the first phase of training, instructors were led through a discussion on a scientific
concept. After the discussion concluded the instructors then visited several inquiry
stations where they could explore the subject further while learning how to increase
metacognition.20 Each station challenged the learner to assess their experience and what
knowledge they had gained. In order to measure increases in metacognition of
participants researchers developed a chart that defined various levels of conceptual
understanding. The teachers were asked to assess where they felt they were in their
understanding after every inquiry station.20
40. 30
After completing several training sessions the next step of the study was
implemented. This step required each teacher to use a specific lesson plan template to
build a lesson following the guidelines they had been taught during the professional
development training.20 The teachers created lessons similar to those they had
experienced in the training which they then presented to their students. Each instructor
tracked student progress using the same chart for measuring metacognitive increase used
during the training sessions.20 The teachers were then asked to write a reflection paper
and take a post pedagogy of science teaching assessment (a similar pre-test had been
administer before the professional training). The teachers were also required to
participate in a final interview.20
The results of the study showed a positive increase in understanding during the
course of the classes.20 Initially teachers found it difficult to encourage their students to
think on a different level, students did not understand how to think about their thinking.
But as time when on teachers felt that their students, overall, had gained a greater ability
to measure what they knew and what they needed more time on.20 Teachers reported that
as the students became more comfortable with the inquiry activities, the quality of
discussions improved.
The results of the teacher pre and post surveys proved to be inconclusive due to
poor post survey completion.20 The students in these classes were also administered pre
and post surveys which were designed to test how student understanding of the nature of
science had changed. A significant change was observed during the course of the
experiment (p=<.001). This study showed that teaching students how to improve their
41. 31
metacognition, in connection with subject learning can be an effective way to increase
Another aspect that is critical to the process of increased metacognition is
repetition. Metacognition relies on the idea that repetition is necessary to fully learn a
concept.21 A recent meta-analysis study explored the growing amount of literature on
this subject.21 According to research, students need to be taught a concept several times
in order to gain understanding. Research also suggests that concepts are better received
when there is space between each teaching occurrence.21 This was due to a fatigue seen
in brain processes, when there is space added between learning occurrences the brain
shows less fatigue.
An interesting fact was discovered through a handful of applicable studies. Adult
students tend to prefer massed learning instead of spaced learning.21 Massed learning
occurs when a student spends several hours in the same day working on or studying for
one particular class or subject. Spaced learning occurs when a student studies small parts
of a subject over many days or study sessions. The recall of the learning, however, tends
to be less than desirable as the student gets further away from the massed learning
session.21 This meta-analysis cited looked at >17 studies that attempted to show change
in final exam scores by varying study techniques.21 Exam scores for the spaced learners
in nearly every study exceeded those of the massed learners. The overall conclusions of
this meta-analysis encouraged spaced study as the optimal way to excellent learning
It is challenging to measure and study metacognition, as metacognitive processes
are inherently personal and individual. Creating assessments that will effectively measure
42. 32
metacognitive increases are difficult at best. Several metacognitive surveys have been
created in hopes of gathering higher quality data. These surveys, as mentioned above,
have been validated for precision, and work is ongoing to improve and create better
assessments. The review of literature seen in this paper does emphasize the need to
improve and enhance metacognition in students. Instructors need to be trained in
pedagogy that will encourage students to look internally in order to foster greater
understanding and subject mastery.
PROBLEM BASED LEARNING
Another emerging pedagogy that is producing strong, independent thinkers is
problem based learning (PBL).22 The focus of PBL is to allow problem solving to guide
the learners. By thinking critically about the problem, students will begin to grasp the
concepts outlined by the instructor in their own way and time.22 The process is
developmental and requires the student to think at different levels in order to gain
complete understanding. Concept is built on concept as the nature of the problem
becomes more complex.22 This method has been suggested by experts to help students
develop better interpersonal skills and greater ability to understand complex concepts.22
An innovative educator, Howard Barrows, began using PBL in a medical school
setting. He was convinced that students should be able to do more than pass multiple
choice tests.23 Barrows created a structure of learning that required students to interact,
research, and think. This innovative style of teaching has spread through many other
disciplines and is now considered a staple of education.23 Howard describes four keys to
the PBL teaching method.24 First, problems must be presented to the learner as they
43. 33
would be experienced in real life. In order to create an authentic learning experience, the
teacher must give students unstructured.24 This allows for many different hypothesis for
solutions and treatments. Second, the students must take responsibility for their own
learning. The student is responsible for choosing appropriate resources and monitoring
and assessing their own performance and that of their peers.24 Third, the teacher becomes
more of a coach, or guide. They are not the central figure in the learning process, the
student is. The relationship between students and teacher is more of an adult-adult
distinction rather than a parent-child relationship.24 The last criteria for this method is
relevant problem material. The problems must have specific application to the student’s
future career.24 Barrow’s idea was to give students valuable experiences during their
schooling that would allow them to be competent professionals.
The work of Barrow has inspired many other educators to pursue this course of
instruction, the literature is constantly growing in support of this type course structure.
Hmelo-Silver is one such educator that supports PBL learning as a means to encouraging
students to take responsibility for their own education.25 She contends that this allows
students to construct knowledge in their own unique way, enhancing the learning process.
Another key element of PBL that improves the learning process is the team collaboration
at the heart of PBL.25 Students learn to listen to new ideas from a wide variety of people
of different backgrounds, this diversity adds depth to learning as idea is built on idea. 25
The success of courses centered on PBL has increased the credibility of this method to
successfully transfer information to students.
A course based on PBL principles was presented to students enrolled in two
completely different university courses, Forestry and Math/economics.22 The courses
44. 34
were evaluated using outcome based assessments; the expected outcomes were set for
each course before instruction began. Each course presented students with a problem that
they had the knowledge to solve. Each subsequent problem built on the knowledge they
gained in the previous problem set, requiring increasing critical thinking as the course
progressed.22 Student reports were examined for understanding based on the outcome
criteria established at the beginning of the course. Students were provided feedback on
which criteria they had met and which criteria needed more thought, grades were given
based on this feedback.22 Researchers used a weighted grading system to classify
students in order to draw conclusions about educational improvements.
The results of this study showed a positive increase in the first two attempts
students made at problem solving. After the first two attempts, improvement in problem
solving began to level off. Researchers believed this occurred because students became
more practiced in problem solving and gained a deeper understanding of learning
requirements.22 The students in the math course showed a higher learning curve in
performance and rate of grasping outcomes than students in the forestry course. This
could have been due to more complex problems being presented to the math students
versus the forestry students.22 Care must be taken, however, to increase complexity of
problems slowly. This study found that when the complexity of the problems increased
too quickly, students demonstrated difficulty in mastering the learning criterion. When
students were presented with problems that slowly increased in difficulty, they were able
to master the concept more quickly.22
Another major component of PBL is the need to allow students to work together
towards a common goal. This type of learning allows students to feel the satisfaction of
45. 35
excelling in areas where they are competent, while learning from others in areas where
they need improvement.26 This promotes a higher level of thinking in students that can
increase student competence and confidence in the subject as a whole.26 Student
interaction paced through the duration of a problem allows students to begin to construct
their own meaning of the information presented to them. This creates an ability to
remember and retrieve information when needed.26 Through PBL, instructors seek to
impress knowledge upon student minds that will become deeply ingrained in their
One way that educators can increase learning retention in students, is to create an
environment where students gain a desire to learn. PBL has been shown to increase
desire in students to learn subject matter that they had not enjoyed in previous classes. A
recent study looked at the effect of PBL on students in a high school Algebra II course.27
The goal of the study was to address the attitude of students towards learning
The study involved 40 students; the students were to be taught using PBL instead
of the traditional lecture/homework class structure previously used.27 Students were
separated into groups and were given problems sets to solve. The teacher did not provide
basic instruction, he/she offered feedback and guidance as students worked together to
figure out solutions.27 Students were surveyed at the end of the study to ascertain
satisfaction with the course structure. When asked how well they liked the PBL
structure, students scored it 6.667 out of 10. While this number may not be as high as
expected, comments from students expressed an improvement in their overall satisfaction
with the subject. Of the 40 students polled, 23 reported that experiencing math through
46. 36
PBL helped them to enjoy math more than in past classes.27 The connections to real-life
problems allowed students to relate to the material, which in turn created more interest in
the subject.27
Some concerns surround the concept of PBL. Many educators recognize that
PBL can enhance critical thinking and other relevant professional skills, but may lack the
ability to help students acquire adequate factual knowledge.28 A recent study sought to
address this concern by testing university level biology students. The study was
composed of two groups, 60 students in each group. The students were exposed to two
different teaching methods based on their assigned group. Both groups were taught the
same information about biology, but each group was taught using a different teaching
method.28 The first group learned the material in a lecture based (traditional) format over
a 9 month period. The second group was divided into groups of 8-10 students and given
nine problems to solve over the course of nine months.28 The students were given 3
weeks to study each problem; each problem was designed to cover specific learning
objectives. The students were given two “working sessions” per week, one with a tutor
and the other as an independent group.28 The main role of the tutor was to argue agreed
upon points in order to stimulate new ideas and discussion.
The cohorts were evaluated using a specific test that was designed to test the
amount of factual knowledge students had gained during the study year.28 T-tests were
used to compare scores between cohorts. Also, a chi-square analysis was conducted to
assess which kind of knowledge was acquired better by each cohort. All statistical tests
run were significant, <.05. Students were also asked to fill out a questionnaire at the end
of the study in order to assess individual competencies.28
47. 37
This study intended to conclude that there was no significant difference in factual
knowledge acquisition between traditional courses and PBL based courses. The outcome
data agreed with the hypothesis. Both methods of teaching helped students gain a similar
amount of factual knowledge.28 Difference in the satisfaction of students between the
two methods was documented. Students preferred the PBL method over the lecture based
method, as stated in a post study questionnaire. A few reasons they cited are as follows:
better critical thinking development, ability to participate in cooperative work, and
enhanced communication skills.28 This study was unable to conclude that PBL was better
than lecture methods, but it did provide strength to the argument that PBL will not hinder
factual knowledge gain.
Other studies have shown an increase in critical thinking and content knowledge
through the use of PBL. These studies all approached measuring increase in critical
thinking and content knowledge in a similar way.29,30,31 Each study employed pre and
post-tests that focused on confidence in critical thinking skills. All of the studies also
asked students to rank their abilities in critical thinking throughout the course either by
journal type reflections or Likert scale responses.29,30,31 Participants of these studies
ranged from secondary students to second year university students. Each study reported
significant increases in gained critical thinking skills through PBL. Students consistently
reported better experiences with course structure when PBL was employed as the
teaching method. These studies also reported higher exam score and overall class scores
for the students in the PBL (treatment) groups as compared to control groups.29,30,31
Researchers in all of these studies found that PBL was an effective way to transfer
information from instructor to student.
48. 38
PBL has been shown to increase the amount of knowledge gained by students in
various subjects and levels of learning. But caution should be used when instructors are
deciding how much PBL should occur in their respective fields. PBL fatigue has been
noticed among some instructors and tutors involved in this type of pedagogy.32
Tutors/instructors have a tendency to begin lecturing during discussion time instead of
allowing the students to direct the discussion.32 This can lead to an erosion of the
benefits of PBL, requiring steps to be taken to change the format of PBL courses.32
Fatigue among students has also been reported. Students become tired of the same
structure and procedure when discussions are conducted among a group. They begin to
develop a “free-rider” attitude that causes them to limit their contribution to group
work.32 Observation of such trends has prompted curriculum developers to discover
ways to prevent this fatigue from occurring.
Cxabanowska, Moust, Mier, et al, the authors of this paper, created a more
structured method of presenting PBL that should reduce fatigue among students and
faculty.32 They created a PBL model that consists of four phases; sensitization,
exploration, integration, and application.32 The writers believe that because learning is an
incremental process, each step must be addressed to gain the best learning outcome. Staff
training is a major proponent of this system of PBL.32 The staff was subjected to multiple
training sessions to teach them how to create a group community where everyone
participated. They were also given tools to help them encourage students to direct their
own learning.32 Staff was encouraged to expand the resources they drew from during
discussion to keep them fresh and up to date.
49. 39
PBL has been shown to be an effective instructional technique in multiple studies.
The evidence supports careful discussion about possible changes to current instructional
programs. Using PBL could enhance student experience in the classroom creating
desirable programs that would keep students interested and engaged.
The three learning methods mentioned in this paper have demonstrated desirable
effects in teacher/student discourses. The research discussed suggests that inclusion of
each of these methods could improve the transfer of information from the instructor to the
student. The question still to be answered is whether inclusion of several of these
techniques into an entry level nutrition course could enhance the education experience
even more. Each method discussed could be used in connection with the others in an
attempt to expand student thinking, and hopefully student knowledge. It is possible that
designing a course using all three methods could produce a learning experience that
would prove to be innovative and comprehensive.
1. Jennings M. In defense of the sage on the stage: escaping from the “sorcery” of
learning styles and helping students learn how to learn. J Legal Stud Educ. 2012;29:191-
2. Teater B. Maximizing student learning: a case example of applying teaching and
learning theory in social work education. Soc Work Educ. 2011;30:571-585.
3. Boghossian, P. Socratic pedagogy: perplexity, humiliation, shame and a broken egg.
Educ Phil and Theory. 2012;44:710-720.
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4. Warnakulasooriya R, Palazzo DJ, Pritchard D. Evidence of problem-solving transfer
in web-based Socratic tutor. Pub in the Proceedings 2005 Phys Educ Res Con. 2005;41-
5. Schoeman S,Using the Socratic method in secondary teaching. Sage Pub. 1997;81:
6. Yang YC, Newby TJ, Bill RL. Using Socratic questioning to promote critical thinking
skills through asynchronous discussion forums in distance learning environments. Amer J
Dist Educ. 2005;19:163-181.
7. Tofade T, Elsner J, Haines ST. Best practice strategies for effective use of questions
as a teaching tool. Amer J of Pharma Educ. 2013;77:1-9.
8. Teodoro SD, Donders S, Kemp-Davidson J, et al. Asking good
questions, promoting greater understanding of mathematics through purposeful teacher
and student questioning. Canad J Action Res. 2011;12;18-29.
9. Parkinson MG, Ekachai D, The Socratic method in the introductory PR course: an
alternative pedagogy. Pub Rel Rev. 2002;167–174.
10. Greenwald R, Quitadamo I. A mind of their own: using inquiry-based teaching to
build critical thinking skills and intellectual engagement in an undergraduate
neuroanatomy course. J Undergrad Neuroscience Educ. 2014;12:A100-A106.
11. Papanna KM, Kulkarni V, Tanvi D, Lakshmi V, Kriti L, et al. Perceptions and
preferences of medical students regarding teaching methods in a Medical College.
African Health Sci. 2013;13:808-813.
12. Carpenter JM. Effective teaching methods for large classes. J Fam and Cons Sci
Educ. 2006;24:13-23.
13. Adib-Hajbaghery M , Aghajani M . Traditional lectures, Socratic method and student
lectures: which one do the students prefer? Webmed Central Medical Education.
14. Tanner KD. Promoting student metacognition. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2012;11:113-
15. Brady M , Seli H, Rosenthal J. “Clickers” and metacognition: a quasi-experimental
comparative study about metacognitive self-regulation and use of electronic feedback
devices. Computers & Educ. 2013;65:56-63.
16. Oxenford O’Briana JR, Noconb H, Sands DI. The use of dialogue and tools to
develop students’ mathematical language and meta-cognition. Teacher Devel.
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17. Mair C. Helping students succeed through using reflective practice to enhance
metacognition and create realistic predictions. Psych Teaching Rev. 2012;18: 42-46.
18. Ziegler NA, Moeller AJ. Increasing self-regulated learning through the LinguaFolio.
Foreign Lang Annals. 2012;45:330–348.
19. Sandi‐Urena S, Cooper MM, Stevens RH. Enhancement of metacognition use and
awareness by means of a collaborative intervention. Internat J Sci Educ. 2011;33:323-
20. Seraphin KD, Philippoff J, Kaupp L, et al. Metacognition as means to increase the
effectiveness of inquiry-based science education. Sci Educ Internat. 2012;23;366-382.
21. Son LK, Simon DA. Distributed learning: data, metacognition, and educational
implications. Educ Psychol Rev. 2012;24:379-399.
22. Kuruganti U, Needham T, Zundel P. Patterns and rates of learning in two problem-
based learning courses using outcome based assessment and elaboration theory. Canad J
Scholarship Teach And Learn. 2012;3:1-17.
23. Ertmer, PA. Commentary for the special issue: PBL scholarship: building on the
educational vision of howard barrows. Interdisciplinary J Prob-based Learn.
24. Barrows, H. Is it truly possible to have such a thing as dPBL? Dist Educ. 2002;
25. Johama C, Clarke M. Teaching critical management skills: the role of problem-based
learning. Teach Higher Educ. 2012;17:75-88.
26. McDonald B. Evaluation instruments used in problem-based learning. ERIC Online
27. Boone C., McCoy L. Problem-based learning and student attitudes in mathematics.
Wake Forest Univ Depart Educ Res Digest. 2013;7-12.
28. Carrio´ M., Larramona P., Ban˜os J.E., Pe´rez J. The effectiveness of the hybrid
problem-based learning approach in the teaching of biology: a comparison with lecture-
based learning. J of Biolol Educ. 2011;45:229-235.
29. Iwaokav WT, Li Y, Rhee WR. Measuring gains in critical thinking in food science
and human nutrition courses: the cornell critical thinking test, problem-based learning
activities, and student journal entries. J Food Sci Educ. 2010;9:70-75.
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30. Goldberg NA, Ingram KW. Improving student engagement in a lower-division
botany course. J Scholar Teach and Learn. 2011;11;76-90.
31. Burris S, Bryan L. Garton. Effect of instructional strategy on critical thinking and
content knowledge: using problem-based learning in the secondary classroom. J Agr
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Teach & Learn Prac. 2012;9:1-15.
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CHAPTER III
INCREASING LEARNING POTENTIAL IN ENTRY LEVEL NUTRITION
STUDENTS THROUGH ONLINE TUTORIAL
Objective: To examine increases in overall knowledge gained and retention of
knowledge gained through implementation of an online tutoring program,
MasteringNutrition©, into an introductory collegiate nutrition course.
MasterningNurition© was developed by Pearson, a large book publishing company, and
is a companion to the textbook Nutrition From Science to You.
Methods: Students enrolled in two consecutive semesters (fall 2013 n=86, spring 2014
n=410) were asked to complete a 10-question assessment testing basic nutrition
knowledge in either content memory or understanding of concept application.
Assessments were completed the first week of class, as part of the final exam, and 4-6
months after class ended. The questions were designed to test student knowledge of
course learning objectives. Students enrolled in the course the semester prior to the
implementation of the MasteringNutrition© platform (spring 2013 n=182) answered
similar questions on a final exam, and the same ten questions 4-6 months after they
completed the course.
Results: Paired sample t-tests were used to examine differences in mean scores over
time by group (Mastering© fall 2013, Mastering© spring 2014, Control spring 2013).
Test scores for each Mastering© group improved from pretest to final test(p=<.001), test
scores decreased from the final test to posttest (p=<.001) regardless of group. Analysis
54. 44
of variance was used to examine differences in the mean scores between groups. There
were no differences in mean scores at pre, final, or posttests between groups
(p=.592,p=.518, p=.518, respectively). Another analysis was conducted using a split
variable for assessment scores, above the mean and below the mean. This analysis
revealed significant differences between groups over time. The students that were in the
below mean group had larger improvements on test scores from the pretest to final test
than those in the above mean group (p=<.001). Test scores for the posttest for both
groups were similar across time.
Discussion and Implications: Research concerning Pearson’s Mastering© programs
have reported positive increases in student scores in various collegiate courses. However,
implementation of online tutoring program, MasteringNutrition©, did not significantly
improve overall student outcomes in an introductory nutrition course. Implementation of
MasteringNutrition© improved basic knowledge of students that entered the course with
background knowledge in nutrition below the mean.
Various instructional methods have the ability to change the amount of
knowledge acquired by students in collegiate/university courses. The history of
education is riddled with large amounts of research concerning the effectiveness of
various instructional techniques.1,2 Traditionally, instructional methods employed at a
collegiate level consisted largely of lectures. Students would attend class to be “spoon-
fed” information that they would then memorize and regurgitate during assessments.1
This type of instruction has proven to be effective in accomplishing some objectives in
55. 45
education. One major advantage noted is the ability to present a large amount of
information quickly, to a large audience.1 While lecture based teaching does have its
advantages, many seasoned educators/education researchers would argue that the benefits
are severely outweighed by the disadvantages.1, 2
One of the largest disadvantages of lecture based teaching lies in the passive
nature of information transfer.1, 3 Studies have concluded that active participation in the
classroom enhances student comprehension and subsequent retention of subject matter.3
This idea of active learning has sparked a revolution of traditional teaching methods.
Various innovative educational theories and instructional methods have been developed
in an attempt to increase the effectiveness of information transfer from instructor to
student.1 Scientific evidence supports the use of several teaching methods, and the use of
these methods has become common in collegiate classrooms worldwide.4, 5, 6
Various forms of teacher pedagogy have significantly increased learning success
when they are employed as part of a course structure. These include the Socratic method,
metacognition or self-directed learning, and problem based learning.4, 5, 6 These
techniques encourage students to be actively involved in learning and have contributed to
increased learning retention of subject matter.4, 5, 6 A combination of these techniques
could potentially create a comprehensive learning program that may significantly
enhance student performance and learning retention in a course of study.
The course discussed in this study is designed around the instructional techniques
mentioned above. The course is taught in a blended format, students attend one lecture
weekly and then complete assignments online at their own pace. The course includes an
online tutoring program called MasteringNutrition© (Mastering©). MasteringNutrition©
56. 46
was developed by Pearson, a large publishing company. Pearson claims that Mastering©
platforms have the ability to increase student performance in courses of various
disciplines.7, 8 The nature of the blended course format and the Mastering© program
combines different teaching pedagogy into one course design. One pedagogy that is
incorporated into Mastery© is Socratic questioning. Socratic questioning uses
progressive questioning to build student understanding of concepts.9 Many proponents of
Socratic course structures believe that students are actively engaged through direct
questioning.9 Progressive questioning is thought to create active brain patterns that help
students store and retrieve information more efficiently.9
The use of questioning in Socratic patterns can create differences in the level of
active learning, sometimes termed critical thinking, experienced by students.10 A study
investigated the ability of questioning to increase critical thinking in students. The
implementation of Socratic pattern questions into an online veterinary science course
resulted in significant improvement of critical thinking (p=<.001).10 While questioning
may improve student critical thinking ability, care must be taken when determining what
type of questions will be used.
The types of questions used in Socratic pedagogy vary widely in depth and
scope.11 A review was conducted using empirical data to analyze the types of questions
used in Socratic instruction. Questions were categorized using cognitive levels in
several domains.11 The reviewers concluded that carefully thought out questions that
promote new insights and comprehensive exploration of subject matter improve
knowledge gained in students.11 They also found the reverse to be true. When poorly
57. 47
crafted questions were given to students, learning was hindered. Poor questions included
those that intimidated students, were confusing, and limited creative thinking.11
Pearson has included several different forms of questions in the Mastering©
program. The hope is that the types of questioning used by the Mastering© program
increases active participation in students. Students are given a problem/question to solve,
if the student marks an incorrect answer they will be given a prompt to where the
information can be found in a text or other source. The student is given three attempts to
answer the question, with two different sets of prompts and follow up questions. This
type of pattern is directly in line with the Socratic Method. Socratic questioning structure
requires the instructor to build question on question, guiding the student to construct their
own knowledge.9
The Mastery© program also incorporates techniques that can increase
metacognition in students. Metacognition is the idea that students must learn to
understand how they learn and process information.5 The use of self-reflection as part of
a course of study has shown to increase metacognition in students.12 Through self-
reflection students learn to measure their individual level of understanding. Student
ability to measure personal understanding can be aided by completing Mastery©
activities. When a student answers a question correctly, they realize that they have a
good understanding of the concept addressed in the question. If they answer incorrectly,
Mastering© prompts them to discover why the answer was wrong. This can potentially
increase metacognition as students reflect on their overall understanding of certain
concepts.12 The question prompts provided by Mastery© allow the student to revisit the
concept and increase their personal understanding.