Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Learning Better Through Synthesizing Multiple Sources

Synthesizing materials helps students learn better in all fields. Two learning psychologists have noted in a study of history students, "In particular, students may benefit conceptually from learning tasks that promote the construction of a situation model, whereas tasks that can be performed with a more superficial representation of the text, such as using a textbase, [such as a legal treatise] would not lead to better understanding. This distinction is consistent with the idea that the construction of mental models is the key to students' deeper understanding of subject matter."

These authors distinguish "between knowledge-telling and knowledge-transforming when students write essays. Telling is regarded as a passive transfer of information from text to paper, whereas transformation is regarded as a more active and constructive process in which the writer relates the contents of sources in new ways by making novel connections within source material as well as connections to the reader's knowledge. Knowledge-telling thus likely involves a relatively superficial interaction with the textbase, whereas knowledge transforming may involve a more conceptual interaction with the writer’s situation model of the text contents."

They concluded: The results suggest "that in order for students to gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter, writing tasks must require knowledge-transforming and not just knowledge-telling. One way to achieve this, as we have demonstrated, is to give students access to a variety of sources, and a specific argument writing task, that requires them to construct their own take on the information they read."

(Scott Fruehwald)


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