Article Summary: Stürmer et al. (2018) Relationship Building for Higher Distance Education


To evaluate the effects of the fast-friendship procedure on social integration and retention in an online college course.

Combating Challenges of Online Education with Social Integration

Though online education has flexibility and accessibility benefits, it also has significant challenges. Online learners must be more self-organized and self-regulated than face-to-face learners, and they face increased social isolation. Moreover, online learners must have high digital literacy and manage several technical tools that may not be integrated, either technologically or curricularly. These challenges are often harder to overcome for non-traditional students, who likely have significant professional and familial obligations, and for students from underrepresented groups, who are often first-generation college students and/or from low socioeconomic status families (implying less access to tech growing up, poorer preparation for college during K-12 education, and higher likelihood of holding a job during college)—the very students who many hope online education would help the most. These challenges can become impassable barriers, leading to low academic performance and high dropout rates. Continue reading

Article Summary: Kolluri (2018) Advanced Placement: The Dual Challenge of Equal Access and Effectiveness


To review the literature on the Advanced Placement (AP) program to determine whether it is reaching both its historical goal of equipping advanced students with college-level skills and credit and its more recent goal to serve students from marginalized backgrounds.

The History and Evolution of AP

Over 50 years ago, the AP program began as a collaboration between elite private schools and universities to provide advanced high school students will opportunities to engage in college-level curriculum and, thus, develop college-level knowledge skills and earn college credit. As college degrees became more common, AP expanded its audience, especially with the goal of serving students who are underrepresented on college campuses. Therefore, AP aims to provide both college-level curriculum for advanced students and equal access to under-served students. While advanced students and under-served students are by no means mutually exclusive, the school and community systems in which they tend to learn are often different. Continue reading

Article Summary: Parkinson & Cutts (2018) Relationship between Spatial Skills and Computer Science

*this paper won the Chair’s Best Paper Award at the 2018 International Computer Education Research conference


To propose a theoretical model of the relationship between spatial skills and computer science (mostly programming) performance and explore the cognitive processes that contribute to both.

Spatial Skill and STEM Performance

Spatial skill is a person’s accuracy and time to complete spatial reasoning tasks, which represent subskills and include

  • spatial visualization – mental rotation or transformation of objects
  • spatial relations – understanding relationships to landmarks or orientations of objects, such as using a map
  • closure speed – completing a partially obscured or incomplete pattern
  • closure flexibility – identifying a pattern that is partially obscured or incomplete
  • perceptual speed – identifying an unobscured pattern
  • visual imagery – translating text or verbal representations to graphic or symbolic representations

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Article Summary: Glass & Kang (2018) Laptops/Phones in the Classroom

*this summary is for an article featured in a Voice of America article that I did an interview for based on my Case for Laptops in the Classroom blog post.


To measure the effect of access to laptops, cell phones, and tablets on student performance in lecture-based classes. Glass and Kang predicted that access to devices would allow students to divide their attention during lecture and hurt their performance on assessments. (For those of you who don’t care about lecture-based classes, stick with it, I’ll connect it back to you at the end).

Study design

Students in sections of a cognitive psychology, lecture-based course were allowed to bring their devices to some class periods but not to others. This is a great design because students are being compared to themselves, not to other students who might have other technology habits. In addition, the researchers weren’t forcing students to use devices, they were allowing them to use devices as they normally would. The other clever aspect of the study design was that they measured performance at two time points, during class on just-presented information and a few weeks later as an exam. Continue reading

Article Summary: Margulieux et al. (2018) Varying effects of subgoal labels in 3 STEM fields


My original intention was to replicate the effects of subgoal labeled worked examples and expository text across different disciplines, but it didn’t really work out like that.

Subgoal learning in expository text

The subgoal learning framework is typically used to break down worked examples into functional pieces that are small enough for novices to grasp (and so small that experts often have a hard time verbalizing because the have become so automatic, further explained here). Subgoals have been used in many fields that focus on procedural problem solving since the 1970s, and most of my work has been applying the framework to programming education. In this work, I explored adding subgoal labels to expository text (i.e., the text that abstractly describe the problem solving procedure) in addition to worked examples (i.e., a concrete problem with the worked out solution that learners can use as a model). I found the combination of both subgoal labeled text and examples to further improve performance in programming over subgoal labeled worked examples alone (Margulieux & Catrambone, 2016). I argued that because students tend to struggle to translate between abstract descriptions of procedures and concrete examples of procedures, having the same subgoal labels in both types of instruction helps them to make connections between the two.

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Book Summary: Lave & Wenger (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation


To explore the relationships between communities in which learning occurs and the situated nature of learning, remembering, and understanding. This sociocultural perspective was in contrast to the cognitive perspectives of learning that were popular at the time (i.e., that studied learning as a change in the brain and focused on individuals in isolation from the learning context).

Legitimate Peripheral Participation

Legitimate peripheral participation evolved from observations about cognitive apprenticeship and situated learning in communities of practice. A community of practice is a learning environment that includes a spectrum of participants from inexperienced members who are joining the community (or apprentices) to experienced members who have a lot of knowledge about practicing an occupation (or masters). Legitimate peripheral participation describes how apprentices learn from each other and masters to engage in the community and develop skills. An important feature of legitimate peripheral participation as a sociocultural theory (rather than a cognitive theory) is that it seeks to explain social practice within a community, and learning is only one characteristic of that practice. As such, Lave and Wenger say that there is likely no “illegitimate peripheral participation,” “legitimate central participation” (because there is no one center to a community), or “legitimate peripheral nonparticipation.”

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Article Summary: diSessa (1993) Knowledge in Pieces Framework


diSessa’s motivation was to understand students’ intuitions of mechanisms in physics and how those intuitions affect formal learning of physics (the actual title of this paper is “Toward an Epistemology of Physics”). The Knowledge in Pieces framework used in this paper, and which will be the focus of this summary, has since been used across many topics, such as learning recursion in computing (Chao et al., 2018). The framework is based on empirical work, but as the paper is 126 pages long, those parts of the paper, and many others, are excluded from this summary.

Knowledge in Pieces (KiP)

The KiP framework is intended to describe learning of complex topics in a way that accounts for learners preconceptions (i.e., intuitions and informal self-explanations) of the topic. In addition, KiP explores the misconceptions that arise as knowledge develops. diSessa discusses four issues related to “theory building about any knowledge system” (p. 111) and how they relate to phenomenological primitives (p-prims), the building blocks of KiP: Continue reading