Patrick Cushen and colleagues tackle whether or not students benefit from instructor-provided study guides, in the current issue of Teaching of Psychology (article here). In addition to being a great source for instructors in any field of study, this research is also a wonderful example of experimental SoTL research, and sparked so many research ideas I can’t wait to get off the ground!
Cushen and colleagues examine the interesting dissonance between what students prefer in terms of studying and what actually works. For example, the authors point out that students view bolded terms in texts as helpful for studying, but that using them to guide studying is not useful, and sometimes negatively impacts (for example see Gurung, 2003; Balch, 2001). Similarly, techniques that are effective for studying, such as self-testing, are among the least used by students (for example see Marek et al., 1999). Cushen and colleagues extend this dissonance into the area of study guides.
Students often request study guides and actually report that they prefer instructor-completed study guides over ones that require students to generate answers (as described in the discussion section of this article). Cushen and colleagues point out that this preference is contrary to many effective study techniques that come from cognitive psychology. For example, the generation effect shows that we perform better when actively make our own material. In studying, this might mean making our own definitions and examples. Making our own study guide directly taps into this idea and other concepts such as concept mapping and self-explanation. The authors examine this particular question in their research.
In this research, Cushen and colleagues compared exam performance after students were provided with an instructor created concept list and after being encouraged to create their own study guide. The study was a within-subjects design across four section of introductory psychology where the order of study guide condition was counterbalanced (and randomly assigned prior to the start of the semester). The authors looked as several variables including short-term retention, long-term retention, and question difficulty (defined by bloom’s taxonomy). Here’s a quick look at what they found:
Cushen and colleagues offer two interesting explanations for their findings. First, students did better in the no study guide condition because they had to use good study techniques such as self-generation. However, the authors did not measure whether students created a study guide when they were not provided with one, so alternatively, it is possible that the mere presence of the study guide may be detrimental. Based on this limitation, the authors suggest that research examines student study guide creation to examine the techniques they use. Cushen and colleagues also recommend that future researchers examine different kinds of study guides. This research provided a list of concepts, but other kinds of study guides may have different results.
I loved reading this study! I am going to include this research in my study tips section of General Psychology, and can use it to justify why I don’t provide study guides. I am also interested in exploring study techniques used by online learners and in particular, how study guides might have a different use and/or impact on their performance (if anyone is interested in collaborating on this, let me know!!!, seriously).