Computer program aids learning process

Michelel Roehrig

Two Kent State psychology professors were awarded a grant to develop a computer program that helps students learn and retain information more efficiently.

Assistant Professor John Dunlosky and his wife Assistant Professor Katherine Rawson are currently conducting research to formulate, test and modify a computer program that evaluates students’ study skills and knowledge.

The program is being developed to help students remember and recall information, such as definitions and simple concepts, Rawson said. However, this is the first step in efficiently learning information; the more important goal is to process and use the information for a purpose.

“We certainly don’t claim that this is the only type of studying that should be used,” Rawson said.

Dunlosky added the program would serve as a complement to help students remember key information.

The computer program works by first presenting a student with the information that should be learned, and a series of trials then tests the student on the information. The program will evaluate what the student knows and suggest when and what to study for in the future.

The program emphasizes “spaced testing,” Rawson said. This technique tests the student in intervals, focusing on the information that hasn’t been synthesized.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded the grant last fall the first time the pair applied for it. They were extremely fortunate to receive the grant on the first application, Dunlosky said. The money will provide for research through 2008.

There have been six preliminary testing phases so far, Rawson said. The team has tested the computer program on hundreds of Kent State student volunteers in general psychology classes, modifying the program after each set of students. The students earn mandatory experiment credit points in return.

Next year, the research team will pair with the Research Center for Educational Technology, which will provide facilities in Moulton Hall when they test fifth and sixth graders. At that point, the program will be “in between research and use,” Dunlosky said.

Dunlosky and Rawson develop their own materials for the research questions. Currently, the information covers basic psychology concepts and definitions.

The research has had some difficulties so far involving students’ abilities, Dunlosky said. A significant number of students have difficulty remembering the material. If they can’t do this, the computer program cannot access their learning patterns.

The long-term goal, Dunlosky said, is to mass-produce the non-profit computer program to be used throughout the state of Ohio at all levels of education in all subjects. Teachers will be able to enter their own class content into the programs, Rawson said.

“It’s certainly nothing we would impose on teachers,” Rawson said. “We want it to be a source we make available to instructors that is easily used.”

Contact graduate studies reporter Michele Roehrig at [email protected].