Boredom vs. Failure Part 2: The New Demographic

January 7, 2010 at 11:05 am 8 comments

On the way to Rochester on Monday (across two planes, 3 hour delay, and 2 hour flight), I read Richard E. Mayer’s Multimedia Learning, 2nd Edition which I highly recommend.  It’s a synopsis of literally dozens of studies, categorized as supporting (and sometimes disputing) 12 principles of how to design multimedia for effective and transferable learning.  I saw a lot of great ideas for how to improve computing education. That observation also has a downside.  Some of Mayer’s well-supported principles aren’t appearing anywhere in computing education that I can see.

One figure really struck me, and I’m including it here (hoping that a single figure counts as ‘fair use’):

This figure summarizes four studies where student data were split based on the amount of prior knowledge that students had about the field of study.  In one experiment, the experimental treatments were integrating text and pictures (text next to pictures) and the other where they were separated.  In the other three experiments, students were shown text with supporting illustrations vs. only text.

What’s striking about these four results is the huge difference for students with low knowledge.  Doing it right matters a lot for these students.  What’s also striking is how it doesn’t make much difference for the high knowledge students.  In fact, in the first experiment, the low-knowledge students even did better than the high knowledge students when given integrated text plus illustrations.

Herein lies the challenge: High knowledge students, being put in a situation which isn’t much better than the alternate treatment, where they’re not being challenged, can be bored.  This figure highlights the trade-off that I mentioned in a previous post.  Do we risk failing the low-knowledge students by catering to the high-knowledge students, or do let the high-knowledge students be bored but help the low-knowledge students succeed?

Can we get success and challenge for all students?  That’s a great research goal!  However, we don’t know how right now, at least, that I can find in the research literature.  And since we’re not currently practicing the learning design principles that support low-knowledge students’ success, I suspect that we’re a long way from reaching that perfect path.

All of this is particularly salient for me this morning. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported this morning that Georgia is now one of the first four states in the US to have majority low-income, underrepresented-minority students.  More than half of all students in Georgia public schools qualify for free lunches, and are Black, Latino, or Asian-Pacific Islanders.  These students tend to be lower-knowledge than the majority, higher SES students.  If we want to succeed at educating these students, we have to figure out how to use the principles that work best with them.  That may mean boring some middle and upper class White kids.  I think that’s better than failing out more than half the students, but that is a hard decision to make.

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Rethinking Science Education as Contextualized Finally! Media Computation book series done!

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  January 8, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Personal prejudice (backed up with some but not enough evidence) is that it is critical to take real variation into account when designing and carrying out curricula.

    A simple set of buckets that seem “good enough” to generate useful methods is

    1. Students strongly “disposed” to learn the activity (“disposed” means the combination of built-in and learned factors which help or hurt the learning in question).

    This category could be called:
    “These students don’t need much help”

    2. These students need some help

    3. These students need a lot of help

    4. These students we don’t know how to help

    The basic idea here is to recognize real variation and the need for different approaches and methods without getting hung up on distractions such as “IQ” etc., or on what kind of help is required.

    Sometimes the additional help is as simple as learning prerequisite knowledge, tricky (e.g. with regard to motivation), and sometimes as complex (as real training to establish stronger “lower level” habits, whether muscular or cognitive).

    These issues (and similar categorizations of variation) are all very familiar and non-controversial in areas like sports learning, music learning, etc. (areas that are considered non-critical “electives”). And many of these areas (like the two just mentioned) have a wide variety of methods to deal successfully with the real variations that exist.

    Cheers

    Alan

    Reply
    • 2. Dan Leyzberg  |  January 12, 2010 at 11:12 pm

      That’s very true — it’s not an abstract decision between boring the “high knowledge” kids and failing out the others… it depends on the students you have sitting in the seats. There ought to be a plan for each category of kids that Alan brings up, since every class has its own mix, right?

      Reply
  • […] Boredom vs. Failure Part 2: The New Demographic From Mark’s post: “What’s striking about these four results is the huge difference for students with low knowledge.  Doing it right matters a lot for these students.  What’s also striking is how it doesn’t make much difference for the high knowledge students.  In fact, in the first experiment, the low-knowledge students even did better than the high knowledge students when given integrated text plus illustrations.” […]

    Reply
  • […] with different levels of detail for different prior experiences, different sets of prior knowledge (as Mayer talks about), and different abilities (think about physically or mentally disabled students). Then there are […]

    Reply
  • […] of the state universities identified as having student populations growing richer and whiter are in those states that are now majority non-white and poor.  As a faculty member at a state university, I can attest that we are feeling the budget cuts as […]

    Reply
  • […] the teacher is most often talking about only the upper end of the class distribution.  As has been discussed previously in this blog, the higher-knowledge and lower-knowledge students have very different needs and respond […]

    Reply
  • […] 25, 2010 More evidence that works for lower ability students doesn’t also work for the higher ability students. In a post on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog, Mike Petrilli ponders the […]

    Reply
  • […] than in the US education system.  The trade-off is one that I talked about in my posts on boredom and failure.  The Finns don’t pull out the gifted students to keep them from getting bored, […]

    Reply

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