GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 230-12
Presentation Time: 4:55 PM


REYNOLDS, Stephen J., School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287 and JOHNSON, Julia K., School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-1404

Cognitive and educational research demonstrate that students gain deeper understanding of concepts when text and figures are tightly integrated. One explanation for this is that our brains have two processing subsystems (dual coding), one for images and one for words, with each processing system having a limited amount of working memory. An efficient way to engage both processing systems is to have students construct a concept sketch, which is a simplified sketch accompanied by complete sentences that describe and explain features, processes, and interrelationships among different components. We have used concept sketches for learning and assessment in our majors and nonmajors classes for more than a decade. For exams, we provide the students with a list of 10 to 16 concept-sketch questions, of which students answer two on a blank sheet of paper during the exam—we choose the two questions on the day of the exam. In the last several years, we have had students in our majors’ classes construct detailed answers for each of these concept-sketch questions in a composition-book-style portfolio. The students complete the portfolio out of class and turn it in at the start of each of four exams. As a result, by the end of the semester students have constructed their own answers for as many as 64 of the most important topics in the class. Most instructors would be thrilled if students left their class with an in-depth understanding of 64 key concepts or systems. Deploying a portfolio approach resulted in huge learning gains for students in both introductory and upper-level courses. In addition, a portfolio approach supports students who have learning challenges or difficulty with in-class exams, since the students know precisely the questions that will be on the exam and can develop answers at their own pace. Also, the portfolio counts for as many points as the exam. We grade the portfolios relatively rapidly using a holistic rubric and glance-and-grade approach. The combination of concept-sketch exams and portfolios is a fantastic strategy for promoting deep learning and is consistent with cognitive research about how our brains work.