J. J. (2004). Enhanced feedback using computer-aided personalized
system of instruction. In W. Buskist, V. W. Hevern, B. K. Saville,
& T. Zinn, (Eds.), Essays from e-xcellence in teaching, 2003
Using Computer-Aided Personalized System of Instruction
Joseph J. Pear
University of Manitoba
originally appeared as the monthly "E-xcellence in Teaching"
e-column in the PsychTeacher Electronic Discussion List for November
classes are too large to teach in an ideal manner. This greatly
limits the amount of verbal (both oral and written) engagement students
can have with the subject matter and the amount of quality feedback
they receive. The result is that students may complete courses without
being able to express coherently the course material, let alone
incorporate it into higher-order thought processes.
to be general agreement on a number of instructional features that
help to promote the development of higher-order thinking, including
frequent testing requiring expository writing, peer interaction,
and student-generated questions (Graesser, Person, & Hu, 2002).
Conner-Greene (2000) reported that students given short, frequent
tests rather than longer, infrequent exams not only demonstrated
increased higher-order thinking, but also obtained higher average
scores in the course. Jackson (2000) noted that collaboration and
group work increased thinking levels in students from every age
group, ranging from elementary school children to graduate students.
Finally, encouraging students to ask and even develop questions
for testing can help promote higher-order thinking (Carroll, 2001).
Students both asking questions of, and providing feedback to, their
peers should thus be highly effective in fostering the development
of higher-order thinking.
has not yet established the delivery system most suited to provide
the necessary features for developing and maximizing higher- order
thinking. However, with increasing student numbers and diversity,
traditional teaching methods may not always be the most feasible
or efficient systems. This holds especially true in institutions
of higher education, where the development of higher-order thinking
is crucial. Online methods offer a promising way to deliver courses
to larger populations of diverse students. One of the benefits of
using computer technology is that it can be programmed to keep track
of students' work and level of accomplishment. In addition, the
program can be systematically changed to compare methods for enhancing
learning and higher-order thinking.
In recent decades,
several approaches to computer-mediated education have appeared
in which assignments are completed through the Internet or a campus
computer network (e.g., Hiltz, 1986). Although only a few forms
of computer-assisted and computer-mediated instruction have been
studied experimentally, research indicates that these courses can
be as effective as, or more effective than, traditional methods
(Kulik & Kulik, 1991). Apparent in all of these approaches is
the fact that as computer and communication network technology changes,
so does the role of the instructor (Kook, 1997). Instructors' roles
will take on the features of information consultants, team collaborators,
facilitators of critical and creative thinking, course developers,
and academic advisors.
At least that
is the promise of education on the Internet. Unfortunately, that
promise has so far remained largely unfulfilled. Probably the most
dramatic change computer technology has brought to higher education
is the use of e-mail for communication of students with the instructor
and with other students. On the whole, computers have served in
this regard simply as a messaging system-an extremely convenient
one both for instructors and students-but not a primary instructional
tool. Other common uses of computer technology in higher education
include providing an online catalogue of library material, conducting
literature searches, and obtaining articles and other information
posted on websites.
of computer technology in higher education have largely been devoted
to attempts at adapting standard classroom activities to a Web environment.
A popular commercial program for facilitating instruction on the
Web, for example, is called WebCT, which is short for "web
course tools." As its name implies, this program provides instructors
with "tools" that permit them to recreate an online version
of standard course practices. Instructors using this program, or
other course delivery programs, have posted lectures, conducted
online discussions, and arranged for students to engage in group-work
on the Internet. These activities often highlight problems that
exist in many standard classroom activities. For example, in a standard
classroom discussion, the fact that only a few students are participating
may not be readily apparent to the instructor. Because the class
discussion is auditory, the instructor knows that students are hearing
the discussion, but may overlook the fact that they may not be listening.
The problem of non-participation by large numbers of students is
much more evident in an online course because the program logs every
contribution that each student makes to the discussion. However,
when contingencies are placed on contributing to an online discussion,
it is almost impossible for an instructor to evaluate and provide
effective feedback to the huge amount of verbal material thus generated.
It would appear
that recreating standard course procedures on the Internet is probably
not an efficient use of computer technology in higher education.
Systematic educational procedures proven to be effective and that
make maximal use of the potential of computers are required. Methods
must therefore be implemented for monitoring the activities of students
and providing them with feedback.
The method my
colleagues and I use in some of our undergraduate courses is called
computer-aided personalized system of instruction (CAPSI). In this
method, which is based on Keller's (1968) personalized system of
instruction, students proceed through the course material by completing
unit assignments on study questions designed to initiate student
inquiry. Students who are further advanced act as peer reviewers.
To ensure high- quality student involvement, the program requires
that the instructor, teaching assistant, or two peer reviewers evaluate
or review a student's unit assignment and provide feedback to the
student. Students must demonstrate mastery on a unit in order to
proceed to the next one. In addition, all assignments and the feedback
provided are recorded automatically for the instructor to sample.
Students receive as many attempts as they need to demonstrate mastery
of a unit, but at least one hour for restudy must elapse between
successive attempts. There is also a built-in appeal process for
arguing the validity of a given answer. The program is applicable
to any course topic and any set of questions or problems. It has
been used successfully over several decades in a number of psychology
courses at the University of Manitoba (Kinsner & Pear, 1988;
Pear & Crone-Todd, 1999; Pear & Kinsner, 1988; Pear &
In a course
using CAPSI, students demonstrate mastery through unit assignments,
midterms, and a supervised final exam. Students study the text independently
and complete study questions selected by the program from a bank
of essay-type questions on the material they have just learned.
Students proceed at their own pace through the study units; and,
as soon as a student has demonstrated mastery of a unit (defined
as correctly answering all questions on the unit assignment), he
or she may serve as a peer reviewer on that unit. The program selects
peer reviewers for each completed assignment according to an algorithm
that takes a number of factors into account, such as the student's
current level in the course, the number of times the student has
served as a peer reviewer, and the availability of the student to
peer review a unit assignment in a timely fashion (i.e., 24 hours
from the submission of the assignment). Peer reviewers receive a
small amount of course credit each time they review an assignment.
Data on CAPSI
show that the instructor and teaching assistant provide the majority
of feedback on unit assignments during the first few weeks of the
course (Pear & Crone-Todd, 2002). As the course continues, the
instructor and teaching assistant continue to provide feedback to
the first few students who complete each unit. However, peer reviewers
then provide increasingly more of the feedback. Feedback is considered
to be minimal if it consists only of a short statement such as "good
answer." It is substantive if it includes a specific reference
to the actual content of the answer. It is particularly noteworthy
that with CAPSI the amount of substantive feedback that students
give and receive appears to be much greater than could occur in
a typical university course with comparable enrollment (Pear &
CAPSI is equally
important as a tool for researching the education process. Although
CAPSI differs significantly from traditional course procedures,
CAPSI variables are traditional educational variables. Traditional
courses contain textual material on which students are tested, and
through discussions and other activities, students, as well as
instructors, provide information and feedback to other students.
Some of the dependent variables that my students, my colleagues,
and I are currently researching through CAPSI are methods for increasing
higher- order thinking (Crone-Todd, 2002; Crone-Todd, Pear, &
Read, 2000; Pear, Crone-Todd, Wirth, & Simister, 2002), improving
the accuracy of peer reviewers (Martin, Pear, & Martin, 2002a),
increasing the amount of substantive feedback peers provide (Pear
& Crone-Todd, 2002), and using feedback to increase the compliance
of students (Martin, Pear, & Martin, 2002b).
CAPSI is an effective solution for instructing and providing feedback
to large numbers of students. Moreover, because the instructor deals
with each student individually rather than as a group, CAPSI can
be used to teach multiple courses at the same time. With a proven
track record, CAPSI has shown promise for developing higher levels
of student exposition and comprehension of course materials. Because
of its success at the University of Manitoba, the Faculty of Arts
and the Department of Psychology have recently budgeted funds to
develop and upgrade further the CAPSI program. Further information
about CAPSI may be obtained by visiting www.capsi.org.
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2003 Joseph J. Pear. http://teachpsych.lemoyne.edu/teachpsych/eit/index.html