This study classified students into different cognitive load (CL) groups by means of cluster analysis based on their experienced CL in a gene technology outreach lab which has instructionally been designed with regard to CL theory. The relationships of the identified student CL clusters to learner characteristics, laboratory variables, and cognitive achievement were examined using a pre-post-follow-up design. Participants of our day-long module Genetic Fingerprinting were 409 twelfth-graders. During the module instructional phases (pre-lab, theoretical, experimental, and interpretation phases), we measured the students’ mental effort (ME) as an index of CL. By clustering the students’ module-phase-specific ME pattern, we found three student CL clusters which were independent of the module instructional phases, labeled as low-level, average-level, and high-level loaded clusters. Additionally, we found two student CL clusters that were each particular to a specific module phase. Their members reported especially high ME invested in one phase each: within the pre-lab phase and within the interpretation phase. Differentiating the clusters, we identified uncertainty tolerance, prior experience in experimentation, epistemic interest, and prior knowledge as relevant learner characteristics. We found relationships to cognitive achievement, but no relationships to the examined laboratory variables. Our results underscore the importance of pre-lab and interpretation phases in hands-on teaching in science education and the need for teachers to pay attention to these phases, both inside and outside of outreach laboratory learning settings.
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We are thankful to the teachers and students involved in this study for their cooperation. We appreciate the helpful and valuable discussion with M. Wiseman regarding the manuscript. Additionally, we are thankful for the supportive comments of three anonymous reviewers. The study was funded by the Bavarian State Ministry of Environment, Public Health, and Consumer Protection; the Oberfranken Foundation; and the German National Science Foundation (DFG BO 944/4-4).
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Scharfenberg, FJ., Bogner, F.X. Teaching Gene Technology in an Outreach Lab: Students’ Assigned Cognitive Load Clusters and the Clusters’ Relationships to Learner Characteristics, Laboratory Variables, and Cognitive Achievement. Res Sci Educ 43, 141–161 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-011-9251-4