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Exploring the assistance dilemma in an inquiry learning environment for evolution theory

Bruce McLaren; M. Timms; D. Weihnacht; D. Brenner
In: o.A. (Hrsg.). Submitted to the Workshop on Intelligent Support for Exploratory Environments 2012: Exploring, Collaborating and Learning Together. International Conference on Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS), June 14-18, Chania, Greece, Springer, 2012.


A central question to learning science is: How much assistance is the right amount to provide to students as they learn with educational technology? Providing students with help allows them to proceed when they are struggling, yet can depress their motivation to learn on their own. Assistance withholding, on the other hand, encourages students to try to learn for themselves, yet can also lead to frustration when they are stuck. We are investigating this question in a project in the area of inquiry learning in science. We have developed a web-based computer program, Voyage to Galapagos (VTG), which helps individual students “follow” the steps of Darwin through a simulation of the Galapagos Islands, guiding the student toward learning the theories of natural selection and evolution. Students are encouraged to explore the islands, take pictures of finches and iguanas, evaluate the animals' characteristics, and use scientific methodology and analysis to “discover” evolution as they explore the simulated Galapagos Islands. We have designed a study in which we will examine five levels of assistance: (1) no support, (2) error flagging only, (3) error flagging and text feedback on errors, (4) error flagging, text feedback on errors, and hints, and (5) preemptive hints with error flagging, error feedback, and hints. Middle and high school students will participate in the study, which will take place later in 2012. In this paper we discuss the design of the software and our plans for varying assistance in the experiment.