Designing Clicker Questions to Stimulate Transfer

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One goal of education is transfer: the ability to apply learning in contexts that differ from the original learning situation. How do we design opportunities to promote transfer in a large lecture course? Studies have shown that learning is enhanced when 1 or more tests are included during learning (the testing effect, e.g., Roediger & Karpicke, 2006) and when study sessions are distributed over time (the spacing effect, e.g., Cepeda, Pashler, Vul, Wixted, & Rohrer, 2006). Furthermore, research on analogical reasoning suggests thinking about abstract principles in multiple superficially different exemplars is critical for transfer. Our quasi-experimental study evaluated whether spaced analogical reasoning questions (delivered via clickers) would improve transfer over a 10-week course. Students in 2 sections of an introductory psychology course were presented with low stakes testing opportunities during every class session of a term. Although both sections used clickers, the Testing group received an additional 1–3 analogical reasoning questions per week designed so that students would apply the same abstract concept (correlation/causation) in a new context (e.g., prenatal growth, literacy). The Notes group was presented with equivalent information in a direct instruction format. To assess long-term transfer, transfer questions were embedded into the midterm and final exam. The Testing group outperformed the Notes group on transfer in the final exam. This indicates that practicing analogical transfer is particularly important for delayed test situations. The current research provides unique insight into the how formative assessment can produce long-term transfer of abstract concepts with current pedagogical technologies.

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