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Designing Critique Guidance for Revision of Science Ideas to Promote Self-Directed Learning


Scientific thinking involves continual critique and revision of ideas as an individual encounters new evidence and novel concepts. However, students often struggle to integrate new ideas with their prior knowledge, and as a result they continue to hold conflicting ideas about scientific phenomena. This is often reflected in students’ revisions of scientific explanations, where they add unrelated information onto the end of their initial ideas. Graphing is another area where students struggle, and can benefit from continual revision. Engaging students in critique, of their own ideas and the ideas of others, has the potential to help students recognize inconsistencies in their scientific understanding. This dissertation research investigates iteratively designed critique guidance to clarify its impact on students’ abilities to reevaluate their prior knowledge and successfully revise their science ideas and graphical representations. Emergent findings from these studies revealed the self-directed nature of revision and critique, and led to further investigation of the relationship between these practices and other aspects of self-directed learning, including generation and investigation of scientific questions.

Using the Knowledge Integration (KI) framework, I redesigned two web-based middle school curricular units, Genetics & Simple Inheritance, and Graphing Stories, in collaboration with teachers and a team of software designers. I conducted an iterative series of studies to clarify the impact of critique in helping students re-examine their prior knowledge, and help them distinguish ideas and improve their revisions of science explanations and graphs. The first set of studies investigated various types of critique guidance designed to help students improve their ability to revise explanations about mechanisms in genetics. The next set of studies includes similar critique guidance and applied it to revisions of student-generated position-time graphs, and looked at students’ rationales for how they chose to revise their graphs. The last set of studies, motivated by the apparent self-directed nature of these practices, further investigated the relationship between revision, critique, and students’ ability to generate and investigate their own questions.

These studies together help clarify the value of critique in promoting revision of science ideas and graphs. The findings show that success learning from critique depends heavily on prior knowledge of the content material. In the context of genetics and graphing, students attended most to aspects of the activity they already understood well rather than using critique to explore new concepts, and this was supported by students’ revision rationales. However, engaging students in critique often encouraged them to revise their ideas more frequently, which is beneficial for improving their scientific understanding. This work reaffirms the value of revision, both for learning and asking further questions. Findings also support the notion that students can successfully critique, revise, and investigate their own questions with sufficient scaffolding. This work has implications for design of online curricula to promote revision, critique, and self-directed learning.

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