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Independent Study Strategies for Learning about the Cardiovascular System from Text: A Comparison of Self-explanation and Drawing


Representations, such as figures and drawings, are aspects of biology that are key to learning, teaching, and communicating scientific ideas. While many studies have investigated undergraduate students’ abilities to interpret representations generated by science experts, much remains to be understood about how student-generated representations (i.e., drawings) can support learning. Prior research suggests that theoretical mechanisms to explain how drawing aids learning may parallel those that explain how self-explanation aids learning, an area of educational research that has been extensively studied. As such, this research draws from the self-explanation literature to explore the similarities and differences between the use of drawing and self-explaining as independent study strategies for learning about the cardiovascular system (CVS) from text.

We found that students who were asked to draw as they studied the CVS text performed better than students asked to self-explain on multiple learning measures. Their mental models, as interpreted from their drawings of the system, were significantly more accurate, and their responses to questions about structures and pathways within the system were more accurate. Further analyses of self-explanations and drawings revealed that the number of goal-oriented self-explanations a student generated was a significant predictor of their assessment scores, especially on questions about functions. Meanwhile, the number of passage-specific images a learner generated in their drawing was predictive of assessment scores, especially on questions about structures. Finally, findings from case studies identified attributes of self-explanations and drawings that may make them more meaningful for learning, such as self-explaining for the purposes of understanding how parts of the system connect together, and drawing to highlight the main ideas of the text. Findings from this study suggest that drawing is generally more effective than self-explanation for learning about the CVS, and should be promoted as a useful strategy for learning biology from text.

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