Delaying instruction: evidence from a study in a university relearning setting
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To promote student learning in a relearning situation in university-level mathematics, we developed the learning method TAU (Think Ask Understand). TAU provides support (i.e. a role script) for students’ interaction during a collaborative problem-solving phase at the beginning of the learning process, while content-related instruction is delayed until a subsequent phase. As the contents targeted in university-level mathematics are complex, withholding instruction will most likely result in students’ failure to solve problems, even in relearning situations. However, there is reason to believe (e.g. Kapur, Instr Sci 38(6):523–550, 2009) that due to their collaborative grappling with the contents, students will be better prepared to benefit from the subsequent instruction phase and thus ultimately learn more than students who receive instruction right at the beginning. In a four-week, in vivo experiment with 76 students, we compared TAU to a direct instruction condition (i.e. a condition in which students received instruction right at the beginning). Post-test analyses showed a significant interaction effect between condition and week: Students in the TAU condition outperformed students in the direct instruction condition in all weeks but the first. The results suggest that the more students were familiarized with TAU, the better their learning outcomes became. Our process data further indicate that students collaborated fruitfully in accordance with the role script and increasingly internalized the script. This collaboration may then have paved the way for increased learning from the subsequent instruction. Our results provide evidence that delaying instruction can also promote learning in relearning situations and at the university level. Moreover, our findings call into question whether all support must be delayed; the primary issue may not be whether or not to provide support, but rather when to provide which kind of support.
KeywordsAssistance dilemma Productive failure Collaboration script Mathematics University
We would like to thank Professor Spada (Institute of Psychology, University of Freiburg, Germany) as well as Professor Goette and Dipl.-Math. Martin Franzen (Institute of Mathematics, University of Freiburg, Germany) for their support and collaboration. The project was funded by Verband der Freunde der Universität Freiburg e.V. and Alumni Freiburg e.V.
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