Effect of peer-led team learning (PLTL) on student achievement, attitude, and self-concept in college general chemistry in randomized and quasi experimental designs

Julia Y. K. Chan and Christopher F. Bauer

This study investigated exam achievement and affective characteristics of students in general chemistry in a fully-randomized experimental design, contrasting Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) participation with a control group balanced for time-on-task and study activity. This study population included two independent first-semester courses with enrollments of about 600. Achievement was measured by scores on exams written by an instructor blind to student participation. Established instruments were used to assess changes in attitude to chemistry and self-concept as a chemistry learner. No differences were found in achievement, attitude, or self-concept for students who participated in PLTL vs. those who participated in documented alternative study activities. Overall, certain aspects of attitude and self-concept showed a slight but significant decline from beginning to end of semester, consistent with previous studies. Males have higher positive attitude and self-concept than females, and first-year students have higher positive attitude, self-concept, and achievement than non first-year students. In a quasi-experimental comparison of 10 other course sections over seven years, students who self-selected into PLTL showed stronger exam achievement than those who did not choose to participate. These findings suggest that past reports of improved student performance with PLTL may in part be a consequence of attracting students who are already motivated to take advantage of its value.



Using representational tools to learn about complex systems: A tale of two classrooms

Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver, Lei Liu, Steven Gray and Rebecca Jordan

Orchestrating inquiry-based science learning in the classroom is a complex undertaking. It requires fitting the culture of the classroom with the teacher’s teaching and inquiry practices. To understand the interactions between these variables in relation to student learning, we conducted an investigation in two different classroom settings to understand how different teachers use and appropriate the same physical and computer-based tools into their teaching practices. Each worked with physical aquaria, function-oriented hypermedia for background information and reference, and NetLogo (Evanston, IL) simulations for computer-supported collaborative inquiry learning. The students engaged in inquiry as they used the NetLogo models in small groups. Because of distinct teaching styles and varying levels of comfort with the materials and content, these two enactments were extraordinarily different between the two classrooms. We present a contrasting case analysis to examine how each teacher’s practices set the stage for the kinds of interactions that occurred during students’ computer-supported inquiry learning. We suggest that one teacher worked from a cognitive-elaboration perspective whereas the other teacher took an approach to teaching that incorporated socio-cultural perspectives. Both of the approaches to teaching supported the active engagement of learners and may account for the similar learning outcomes measured. In light of the current move toward standards-based public education, it may seem that there is only one pathway for teaching to support of student learning. However, our results do not support this notion and we provide evidence that different instructional models, classroom norms, and appropriation of tools can support similar student learning outcomes with respect to content knowledge.


Seeking the general explanation: A test of inductive activities for learning and transfer

Jonathan T. Shemwell, Catherine C. Chase and Daniel L. Schwartz

Evaluating the relation between evidence and theory should be a central activity for science learners. Evaluation comprises both hypothetico-deductive analysis, where theory precedes evidence, and inductive synthesis, where theory emerges from evidence. There is mounting evidence that induction is an especially good way to help learners grasp the deep structure (i.e., underlying principles) of phenomena. However, compared to the clear falsification logic of hypothetico-deductive analysis, a major challenge for induction is structuring the process to be systematic and effective. To address this challenge, we draw on Sir Francis Bacon’s original treatise on inductive science. In a pair of experiments, college students used a computer simulation to learn about Faraday’s law. In the inductive conditions, students sought a general explanation for several cases organized according to Bacon’s tenets. In contrast, other students used a more hypothetico-deductive approach of sequentially testing (and revising) their hypotheses using the simulation. The inductive activity led to superior learning of a target principle measured by in-task explanations and posttests of near transfer and mathematical understanding. The results provide two important pieces of information. The first is that inductive activities organized by Bacon’s tenets help students find the deep structure of empirical phenomena. The second is that, without an inductive “push,” students tend to treat instances separately and fail to search for their underlying commonalities.


Drama teachers: Global encounters

Sally Mackey and Sian Morrison

‘Drama teachers: global encounters’ is a series of curated interviews with drama teachers to be presented in forthcoming issues. The aim is to generate a global snapshot of key issues effecting drama teachers and drama teaching at one point in time and to explore how these are navigated in the day-to-day experience of drama teaching. In this series of interviews, we would like to directly represent the drama teacher’s voice and also juxtapose voices of drama teachers working in contexts that have strong histories of drama in schools (UK, Canada, Australia), with drama educators working in regions less well documented in the drama education literature, for example, from the global south and places of conflict.