Getting the point: tracing worked examples enhances learning

Fang-Tzu Hu

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

Embodied cognition perspectives suggest that pointing and tracing with the index finger may support learning, with basic laboratory research indicating such gestures have considerable effects on information processing in working memory. The present thesis examined whether tracing worked examples could enhance learning through decreased intrinsic cognitive load.

In Experiment 1, 56 Year 6 students (mean age = 11.20, SD = .44) were presented with either tracing or no-tracing instructions on parallel lines relationships. The tracing group solved more acquisition phase practice questions and made fewer test phase errors, but otherwise test results were limited by ceiling effects. 42 Year 5 students (mean age = 10.50, SD = .51) were recruited in Experiment 2 to better align the materials with students’ knowledge levels. The tracing group outperformed the non-tracing group at the test and reported lower levels of test difficulty, interpreted as lower levels of intrinsic cognitive load. Experiment 3 recruited 52 Year 6 and Year 7 students (mean age = 12.04, SD = .59) presented with materials on angle relationships of a triangle; the tracing effect was replicated on test scores and errors, but not test difficulty. Experiment 4 used the parallel lines materials to test hypothesized gradients across experimental conditions with 72 Year 5 students (mean age = 9.94, SD = .33), predicting the tracing on the paper group would outperform the tracing above the paper group, who in turn would outperform the non-tracing group. The hypothesized gradient was established across practice questions correctly answered, practice question errors, test questions correctly answered, test question time to solution, and test difficulty self-reports.

The results establish that incorporating the haptic input into worked example-based instruction design enhances the worked example effect and that tracing worked examples is a natural, simple yet effective way to enhance novices’ mathematics learning.

Supervisor: Dr Paul Ginns