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Analysis of patterns in time for evaluating effectiveness of first principles of instruction

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In this naturalistic design-research study, we tracked 172,417 learning journeys of students who were interacting with an online resource, the Indiana University Plagiarism Tutorials and Tests (IPTAT) at IPTAT was designed using First Principles of Instruction (FPI; Merrill in Educ Technol Res Dev 50:43–59, 2002,; First principles of instruction: identifying and designing effective, efficient, and engaging instruction, Wiley, New York, 2013; M. David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction, Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Washington, 2020). Students who used IPTAT were mostly from university and advanced high school courses taught in 186 countries and territories. Instructors expected their students to pass one of trillions of difficult Certification Tests (CT) provided through IPTAT. Each CT assessed student ability to classify samples of writing as word-for-word plagiarism, paraphrasing plagiarism, or no plagiarism—when given original source materials. In 51,646 successful learning journeys, students who were initially nonmasters and who later achieved mastery had viewed, on average, 89 IPTAT tutorial webpages designed with FPI. In the 23,307 unsuccessful learning journeys, students who were nonmasters and who had not (yet) achieved mastery had viewed an average of 52 tutorial webpages designed with FPI. Analysis of Patterns in Time (Frick in American Educational Research Journal 27:180–204, 1990) and Bayesian analysis revealed that students were nearly 4 times more likely to pass a CT when they selected one or more parts of IPTAT instruction designed with FPI. These results support the instrumental value of First Principles of Instruction for design of online learning in a massive, open, online course (MOOC). These findings further demonstrate the value of an innovative approach to modern learning analytics, Analysis of Patterns in Time, when coupled with Bayesian reasoning.

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  • 21 January 2022

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Correspondence to Theodore W. Frick.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare that are relevant to the content of this article. This study was not funded. The authors did not receive support from any organization for conducting this study.

Research involving human participants and/or animals

This study has been approved and granted exemption for human subjects research by the Indiana University Institutional Review Board, Protocol No. 1304011238.

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No informed consent was required for this study by the Indiana University Institutional Review Board, Protocol No. 1304011238. The Privacy Policy for the Indiana University Plagiarism Tutorials and Tests is stated at In compliance with the Privacy Policy, we share only aggregate, non-personally identifiable information about participants in this study.

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Frick, T.W., Myers, R.D. & Dagli, C. Analysis of patterns in time for evaluating effectiveness of first principles of instruction. Education Tech Research Dev 70, 1–29 (2022).

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  • Online learning
  • Learning journeys
  • Innovative learning analytics
  • MOOC
  • First principles of instruction
  • Analysis of patterns in time
  • Instructional effectiveness
  • Recognizing plagiarism
  • Certification tests
  • Mastery learning
  • Web-based instruction