Identifying rote learning and the supporting effects of hints in drills

by   Gunnar Stefansson, et al.

Whenever students use any drilling system the question arises how much of their learning is meaningful learning vs memorisation through repetition or rote learning. Although both types of learning have their place in an educational system it is important to be able to distinguish between these two approaches to learning and identify options which can dislodge students from rote learning and motivate them towards meaningful learning. The tutor-web is an online drilling system. The design aim of the system is learning rather than evaluation. This is done by presenting students with multiple-choice questions which are selected randomly but linked to the students' performance. The questions themselves can be generated for a specific topic by drawing correct and incorrect answers from a collection associated with a general problem statement or heading. With this generating process students may see the same question heading twice but be presented with all new answer options or a mixture of new and old answer options. Data from a course on probability theory and statistics, taught during COVID-19, are analysed to separate rote learning from meaningful learning. The analyses show non-rote learning, but even with large question databases, students' performance is better when they are presented with an answer option they have seen before. An element of rote learning is thus exhibited but a deeper learning is also demonstrated. The item database has been seeded with hints such that some questions contain clues to cue the students towards the correct answer. This ties in with the issue of meaningful learning versus rote learning since the hope is that a new hint will work as a cue to coax the student to think harder about the question rather than continue to employ rote learning. Preliminary results indicate that hints are particularly useful for students with poor performance metrics.




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