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Characterizing Students Handwritten Self-explanations

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Understanding Our Students I

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.305.1 - 25.305.14



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Paper Authors


James Herold University of California, Riverside

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James Herold earned his B.S. in computer science at California Polytechnic State University, Pomona, in 2004. He is currently a Ph.D. student in computer science at the University of California, Riverside.

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Thomas Stahovich University of California, Riverside

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Thomas Stahovich received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1988. He received a M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1990 and 1995, respectively. He is currently Chair and professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of California, Riverside.

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Characterizing students handwritten self-explanations In this paper, we investigate students' handwritten, self-generated explanations of their work. Ithas been shown in related work that a student's self-explanation of a worked-out exercise demonstratesthe student's understanding of the material. Additionally, previous works have demonstrated thatstudents who were asked to provide self-explanations of their worked-out exercises realized greaterlearning gains than students who were not. The goal of our work is to understand the reason for thesebenefits. As a first step, we are examining how the process of self-explanation leads students toreexamine their work and correct conceptual errors. In winter of 2011, we conducted a study in which 39 students in an undergraduate Statics coursewere asked to provide hand-written self-explanations of their work. Students were provided a set ofquestions with each homework assignment, eliciting explanation of their reasoning for each step of thesolution process. For example, students were asked why they chose the free body diagram they usedand, for friction problems, whether or not they assumed any bodies were slipping. Students wererequired to write homework solutions and self-explanations using an Anoto digital pen, creating a time-stamped digital copy of their work. We found that many students completed the entire problem solution prior to providing any self-explanation. A number of students, however, alternated between the two tasks, revisiting their solutionas they wrote their self-explanations, an occurrence which we call a “ReThink.” We have found thatduring ReThinks, students may identify conceptual errors in their work and correct them. Thisphenomenon is a tangible illustration of the benefits of self-explanation for increasing a student’sunderstanding of the subject matter. We seek to better understand the process of ReThinking, so as toenable us to design more effective self-explanation questions that elicit this response from a broaderrange of students. In this paper, we present qualitative and quantitative analyses of ReThinks, detailing theirtemporal properties and the types of problem-solving activities they trigger. Lastly, we discuss insightsabout the design of self-explanation question that are more effective at eliciting relevant studentresponses that engage students in the reexamination of their own work.

Herold, J., & Stahovich, T. (2012, June), Characterizing Students Handwritten Self-explanations Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21063

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