What Is Research?

May 29, 2010


Some things I’ve been reading about:

  • Concept inventories: These are tests designed to determine the extent to which people have an understanding of basic concepts in a particular area. The Wikipedia article on concept inventory provides a decent introduction. Concept inventories were introduced in physics, with the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) being used to determine people’s understanding of mechanics. Here’s the Google Scholar results for Force Concept Inventory, including this paper by Hestene, Wells, and Swackhamer that describes the detailed construction of the inventory. The force concept inventory led Eric Mazur, an experimental physicist at Harvard University, to change his style of teaching introductory physics. Here is a YouTube talk by Mazur where he describes how the concept inventory led him to change his style of teaching introductory physics courses.

  • Open notebook science: Here is the Wikipedia entry on open notebook science, replete with links to various discussions of the subject. The UsefulChem blog has plenty of discussions and links related to open notebook science. Here is Michael Nielsen’s article/blog post on the future of science, with discussions of open notebook science and related ideas.

  • Moore method: Much of inquiry-based learning (IBL) in college mathematics courses is based on the Moore method and its derivatives. The Moore method was pioneered by topologist Robert L. Moore at the University of Texas, and is often also called the Texas Method. The idea is that the instructor, instead of teaching students, gives them problems to solve on their own and listens to them as they attempt to present their solutions to their peers and the instructor. Here’s the Wikipedia article on the Moore method. Here is the Legacy of R. L. Moore project and here is the University of Texas Discovery Learning Project. There’s a three-part video series (1, 2 and 3) about the Moore method. You can also view this book about the Moore method (limited preview via Google Books). See also this Math Overflow discussion on the Moore method.

  • Cognitive load theory: Here is Sweller and Chandler’s original paper (1991) on the subject and here are the Google Scholar results on the query. Cognitive load theory attempts to look at learning in terms of the cognitive load imposed on the learner. It identifies three kinds of load: intrinsic load, which is the load that naturally arises from trying to learn, extrinsic load, which is the load that arises due to distractions and does not help with learning, and germane load, which is load that the learner takes on to get a deeper understanding and form better connections within the material. The goal of good instruction should be to assess how much intrinsic load a given learning task entails, try to minimize the extrinsic load, and use whatever extra space there is to add in germane load.

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