CSU, Chico News

Colloquium Explores Student Comprehension and Web-based Learning

Date: 03-15-2007

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs
Carol Edelman
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

The College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at California State University, Chico is presenting its spring colloquium on Thursday, April 5, with psychologist Neil Schwartz as the speaker. The title of Schwartz’s presentation is "Inducing Deep Level Comprehension in Web-based Learning: The Role of Metaphorical Priming."

The colloquium, to be held in Ayres 120 at 7 p.m., is free and open to the public.

Increasingly, students use the Internet to learn, either because teachers assign lessons that require the Internet or because students use it on their own as a research and learning tool. However, said Schwartz, not all students learn effectively from Web sites. Schwartz recently explored ways of increasing high school students’ comprehension in a research project with 65 Paradise High School students.

"Web sites are comprised of pages consisting of text, graphics, video clips, animation and sound; organized around principles of instructional design; and linked by navigational buttons and key words," said Schwartz. "Many students find it difficult to relate to the information contained in the sites and feel puzzled about how to search them. I investigated whether the use of metaphor could help them derive deep levels of understanding about the information they are required to learn and navigate the Internet to effectively and sensibly find it."

Metaphors have been shown to link what students already know with new and unfamiliar information, said Schwartz. The Paradise high school seniors spent five days working in an Internet site developed by NASA to teach the U.S. Constitution relative to separation of powers and popular sovereignty.

A third of the students were assisted with a metaphor that targeted the concept of a powerful person in one’s family and the extent to which decisions were made for the benefit of family. Another third received material on an irrelevant metaphor that targeted the concept of individuals playing a game and the extent to which game dynamics change when one member wants to quit. And the remaining group received no extra information.

Results of the investigation revealed that students showed no difference across treatments on standard measures of learning as evidenced by multiple-choice tests. However, deep levels of comprehension and sensible methods of site searching were significantly benefited by the relevant metaphor.

Schwartz’s presentation is based on research that just appeared in a recent issue of the "Journal of Educational Computing Research," Vol. 35, No. 1, 2006. You can read the research article at the following Web site.

Schwartz, a member of the Department of Psychology at CSU, Chico since 1987, received a PhD in educational psychology from Arizona State University in 1981, with a specialization in learning, cognition and instruction. He has nearly 150 publications, papers, symposia and keynote addresses presented at national and international conferences in the learning sciences. His work focuses on the way graphics function metaphorically and aesthetically to foster learning of ambiguous or conceptually difficult subject matter

Schwartz conducts research in collaboration with a small group of graduate and undergraduate students, believing that research is best taught under an apprenticeship model where students acquire the knowledge, skills and values of research required to publish in refereed research journals. His apprenticeship program extends internationally through his collaboration with a team of colleagues from Australia, Cyprus, France, Germany, and Italy-liaisons affording students the opportunity to be hosted internationally as research-apprentices during the academic year.