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Self Explanation For Effective Learning In Engineering Chemistry: An Exploratory Study For Incoming Freshmen

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Classroom Engagement

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1047.1 - 14.1047.10



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Paper Authors


Dan Cernusca Missouri University of Science and Technology

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Dr. Cernusca is Instructional Design Specialist in the Department of Global Learning at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. He received his Ph.D. degree in Information Science and Learning Technologies in 2007 from University of Missouri – Columbia. He also holds a BS and a Ph.D. from the University of Sibiu, Romania with a specialization in manufacturing technologies and respectively cutting-tools design. His research interests include Design-Based Research in technology-enabled learning contexts, technology-mediated problem solving, applications of dynamic modeling for learning of complex topics, and the impact of epistemic beliefs on learning with technology.

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Ioan Gelu Ionas University of Missouri Columbia

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Dr. Ioan Gelu Ionas began teaching in a Romanian university more than 15 years ago with a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering. Since then he earned an M.B.A. degree from the University of Missouri - Columbia, and a Ph.D. in management from a Romanian university. While teaching in Romania he became interested in using technology in teaching and joined the doctoral program in Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri-Columbia where he is currently a doctoral candidate. His research interests focus on the research and development of tools and methodologies to support causal reasoning and learning.

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Harvest Collier Missouri University of Science and Technology

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Dr. Harvest Collier is the Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Studies and a Professor of Chemistry at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Dr. Collier serves also as the director of the Center for Educational Research and Teaching Innovation (CERTI) that focuses on fostering faculty contribution to the continual improvement of the learning environment through programs that emphasize collaborative, experiential and technology-enhanced teaching and educational research. In the area of educational research, he is highly interested in the effective integration of both new learning models and technologies into classroom activities that scaffold students’ in-depth conceptual learning.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Self-Explanation for Effective Learning in Engineering Chemistry: An Exploratory Study for Incoming Freshmen

Abstract New students in engineering and science typically face difficulties in adapting their learning strategies to the requirements and challenges of college education. One of the major factors that challenges students engaged in this transition is their ability to build and successfully use deep- reasoning skills. To address this challenges instructors need to employ instructional strategies that shift students’ focus from memorization of procedures and equations toward the integrative use of prior and new knowledge introduced in the classroom. In this paper, self-explanation was proposed as the core element of such instructional strategies because it relies on the explanation a learner generates on his or her own as opposed to the explanations provided by an external source such as an instructor or a book. The primary goal of this study was to explore to what degree the use of self-explanation strategies improve students’ performance on basic chemistry problems. Because self-explanation involves proper use of prior knowledge, a second goal of this study was to find if the level of prior knowledge influences the effectiveness of self-explanation. A number of 52 incoming freshmen students enrolled in the introductory chemistry module of a three-week summer learning program participated in the two-group between subjects completely randomized experiment used in this study. The results of this exploratory study suggest that engaging students in a self-explanation behavior using guiding questions can be an effective tool in chemistry learning. However, the effectiveness of this strategy is diminished if students did not reach the threshold of domain- specific prior knowledge required by the complexity of the task. This strategy can be easily adapted to increase the effectiveness of tutoring sessions, review sessions, or short transfer story problems. Introduction With many students struggling with the concepts they learn, their instructors often ask themselves “How can we help them?” In science and engineering, this question often revolves around the thread of coherent reasoning built around questions or question-driven story problems that the instructors ask and the answers they receive from their students. Questioning is one of the most fundamental cognitive components that guide human reasoning 1. Very often students engage in memory search and retrieval strategies in answering instructor’s questions, strategies that are not sufficient for sense making. In order to comprehend materials, students need to relate new ideas to prior knowledge, reason from that knowledge, and synthesize that new knowledge into stronger mental models. They must learn to answer deep reasoning questions that articulate causal chains, actions, and logical justification 1.

In this study we look at a potential strategy to support students’ deep and coherent reasoning by analyzing how instructors can use self-explanation 2 to support students’ learning in chemistry. Research on self-explanation 2,3 shows that significant gains in performance on task can be achieved when people use this strategy 4.

Cernusca, D., & Ionas, I. G., & Collier, H. (2009, June), Self Explanation For Effective Learning In Engineering Chemistry: An Exploratory Study For Incoming Freshmen Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5519

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015