Designers Should Offer Students Choices
During the Conduct of Investigations
Steven McGee & Bruce C. Howard
Copyright © 2001.
What choices can
Our goal is for students to become experts
in designing and conducting independent research. Before conducting
independent research, students must gain experience at making decisions
during each phase of an investigation. There are a variety of activities
within an investigation about which students can make decisions. Designers
might offer students choices during background research, data collection,
and/or data analysis. The number and types of alternatives that designers
provide is based on the experience students have conducting investigations.
Why is offering
- Decision-making increases conceptual understanding.
Under the right circumstances, offering students an appropriate number
of choices leads to effective decision-making (Williams, 1996). During
the decision making process, students are actively processing and
organizing information (Salomon, 1983), which leads to higher levels
of conceptual understanding (Carrier & Williams, 1988).
- Decision-making promotes inquiry skills.
Allowing an appropriate amount of choice during ill-structured and
authentic investigations leads to the development of inquiry skills
(Avner, Moore, & Smith, 1980; Mayer, 1976).
How does a designer offer choices?
- Match the number of choices offered to the
experience level of the target students.
Research indicates that students do not necessarily know how to make
decisions if they are unfamiliar with the research topic and/or how
to conduct investigations. For inexperienced students it is better
to limit the available options and provide substantial guidance (Zimmerman,
1990). As their knowledge of a topic increases and they gain experience
at conducting investigations, students make more effective use of
the options that are provided (Lee & Lee, 1991; Tobias, 1987).
- Care needs to be taken in designing what
choices are offered.
A designer can a) offer no choices by providing the exact resources
needed and prescribing how those resources should be used, b) offer
limited choices by providing a set of possible resources and having
the students decide which resources to use and how to use them, or
c) offer expansive choices by providing no resources and forcing the
students to find the resources they need. During an investigation
choice can be offered in the selection and use of background reading
material, datasets, tools/equipment, and analysis methods. The following
research summaries describe the conditions under which various ways
to offer students choices are most effective: Chung and Reigeluth
(1992); Laurillard (1997).
Avner, A., Moore, C., & Smith, S. (1980). Active
external control: A basis for superiority of CBI. Journal of Computer-Based
Instruction 6(4), 115-118.
Carrier, C.A., & Williams, W.D. (1988). A test of
one learner control strategy with students of differing levels of task
persistence. American Educational Research Journal 25(2), 285-306.
Chung, J., & Reigeluth, C.M. (1992). Instructional
prescriptions for learner control. Educational Technology 32(10), 14-20.
Laurillard, D.M. (1987). Computers and the emancipation
of students: Giving control to the learner. Instructional Science 16(1),
Lee, S.S., & Lee, Y.H.K. (1991). Effects of learner-control
versus program-control strategies on computer-aided learning of chemistry
problems: For acquisition or review? Journal of Educational Psychology
Mayer, R.E. (1976). Some conditions of meaningful learning
for computer programming: Advance organizers and subject control of
frame order. Journal of Educational Psychology 68(2), 143-150.
Salomon, G. (1983). The differential investment of mental
effort in learning from different sources. Educational Psychologist
Tobias, S. (1987). Mandatory text review and interaction
with student characteristics. Journal of Educational Psychology 79(2),
Williams, M.D. (1996). Learner-control and instructional
technologies. In D.H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational
communications and technology (pp. 957-983). New York: Simon & Schuster
Zimmerman, B.J. (1990). Self-regulated learning and
academic achievement: An overview. Educational Psychologist 25(1), 3-18.