Innovation Anchored in Tradition:
Action Research @ Glendale Community College

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Michael Dulay

Research Paper: Sample

I first believed the premise of this assignment to be flawed. At the beginning of the semester, we were asked to create our own personal theory on learning. It is believed that using our own personal experiences would serve as 'proof' of how we learn. However, after recently 'learning' how we learn, I have found that my original theory is full of holes. It is of no surprise that finding a scholarly article supporting my theory is increasingly difficult. However, was I really that off? My personal theory on learning follows the central idea that learning requires stimulation and excitement to be effective. All of my most memorable classes have been taught by vocal, vibrant and impassioned teachers. Visually stimulating figures leave a better impression than those that simply lecture from their desks. Furthermore, the teachers that catches and maintain my attention with visuals and audio give me a better opportunity to retain information.  

Article #1: Washburn, David., Hopkins, William., and Rumbaugh, Duane. "Video-Task Assessment of Learning and Memory in Macaques." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes ; volume 15, #3, American Psychological Association Inc., 1989, pp 393-400

Washburn, Hopkin and Rumbaugh have performed extensive research at Georgia State University on the benefit of stimulus movement on learning, transfer, matching and short-term memory performance on two Macaques. Washburn, Hopkin and Rumbaugh hypothesized that movement can greatly enhance attention to a stimulus.

The subjects being used were two 6-year-old rhesus monkeys named Abel and Baker. They were previously taught how to operate an analogue joystick but had no prior experience with discrimination learning or matching experience. They were tested in their living cages and were not previously deprived of food or water. However, all food that they received during the trial was given for correctly completing a trial (Washburn, Hopkin and Rumbaugh, pg 395).

The subjects were given a range of tests from learning set (LS), transfer index (TI), matching to sample (MTS) and delayed matching to sample (DMTS). I will focus on the MTS test, although it is important to point out that all four tests provided nearly identical results. I arbitrarily choose the MTS to focus my report on. The MTS tested Abel' and Baker's ability to use the joystick to point out two matching discriminanda. A library of 8 random images was used from which 3 images appeared on a computer screen in front of the subjects. Two of the images were identical. The monkey would use the joystick to make contact with one of the 3 images, at which time that image would disappear and the monkey would have to move the cursor over the matching image. Thus, the monkey would have to identify 2 images that are the same, and point out which one had a matching image when its duplicate would be removed from the screen. A correct pairing resulted in a 1 second high pitch tone and food. An incorrect match would receive only a 2 second low pitch tone. The control tests would follow the conditions listed, but the images remained stationary on the screen. The other tests would have the images moving randomly across the screen instead of remaining still.

The results of the MTS test showed that both Abel and Baker performed better on the tests with moving images versus the tests with stationary ones. Abel successfully matched 82.1% of the moving images versus 77.1% of the stationary ones. Baker performed 67.5% moving and 62.9% stationary (Washburn, Hopkin and Rumbaugh, pg 399). This research might not seem to support my theory of learning, but it has serious implications for it. First, I stated that a vibrant exciting teacher gains my attention better than a teacher who simply sits at his desk. The images on the screen can represent a teacher which a student must focus attention on. Thus, while the results show that the monkeys were able to focus and perform better on moving subjects, the same can be said of students and their teachers. A teacher who is animated and moves around while lecturing will be able to grab more students' attention then if he were to lecture from behind a desk. Furthermore, it has been most successfully argued that in order for information to be encoded into long-term memory, it must first enter short-term (working) memory. By focusing someone's attention, info enters working memory, and thus learning has a greater chance of happening.

  I wish this test had been adapted to humans, because there are only so many connections that can be made between monkeys and humans. Also, the fact that only 2 monkeys were examined makes the results greatly suspect to error. Follow up research needs to be performed to strengthen these findings. Despite these drawbacks, parallels can be made to a captivated students and engaging teachers.

           Article #2: Atkinson, Robert K. "Optimizing Learning from Examples Using Animated Pedagogical Agents." Journal of Educational Psychology [PsycARTICLES]; volume 94, #2, American Psychological Association Inc., 2002, pp 416-427.

Robert Atkinson performed a finely tuned research experiment to investigate the benefit of animated pedagogical agents and human voice on learning. Atkinson hypothesized that the addition of an animated character and human voice to a computerized worked example can decrease perceived difficulty and increase performance (Atkinson 419). The sample was 75 volunteer undergraduate psychology students attending Mississippi State University.

The participants were tested privately on computers and were asked to fill out an entrance survey on general math aptitude and answer 11 proportional math problems. The subjects also had to report their perceived difficulty in understanding the problems. Subjects were randomly assigned to use programs with different aiding mechanisms. One-third of the participant performed their problems with the visual help of an animated parrot. The parrot would point out the important sequential steps of the problem, which were presented to help the subjects. The same group also received   aural stimulation by means of a human voice recording which read off the problem and steps. Another third of the group received only the aid of the human voice recording. The control group received the text without any visual or aural assistance.

The results of the experiment are very conclusive. On all reported levels, the group receiving the animated pedagogical agent plus voice dominated. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being most difficult) the perceived difficulty levels of the math problems was 2.17, compared to the 2.50 and 2.87 reported on the voice and text only categories (respectively). As far as actual test performance, the animated plus voice group answered 8.28 questions correctly (out of 11), compared to 6.84 and 5.64 correctly answered questions by the voice and text groups. It is apparent from the evidence compiled that learners who are engaging in mathematical thinking can benefit on a variety of cognitive and effective measures by working within a learning environment that contains an animated pedagogical agent - particularly an agent capable of delivering instructions aurally and using forms of nonverbal communication to support leaning (Atkinson 427). This experiment could benefit from a larger sample study, perhaps even one that sample from a younger population. Also, I would hope that this same test would be expanded to other academics. The same testing format could be applied perfectly to architecture, tracing science pathways, and even in-depth literature analysis. Nevertheless, the results show that visual and aural stimulation foster a better learning environment.

  This relates greatly to my theory since I argued that teachers who are engaging help stimulate better learning. The unenthused teacher is more likely to lecture from behind a desk and not use visual stimulation (like using a chalk board or media device to help emphasize main points), and thus has a more difficult time connecting to me. On the other hand, the engaging teacher (much like you Mr. Dulay), is much more likely to provide students with the same environment that the students receiving animated pedagogical agents and aural stimulation received. Such an educator will use more nonverbal cues, utilize more visual stimulation on the board or computer, and will make more of an effort to point out logical steps in thinking, as the students being tested received. It only makes logical sense that an increase in visual and aural will better performance and decrease perceived difficulty.

It turns out that my personal theory on learning is not too far off from modern thinking on the subject. Washburn's, Hopkin's and Rumbaugh's research on monkeys have shown that a moving object catches attention better than a stationary one. Similarly, Atkinson has convincing demonstrated that visual and aural stimulation lead to better learning and lower levels of perceived difficulty. My theory may not have been worded identical to these two research findings, but my core principle of learning are shrouded just beneath the surface. The classes I have learned best in have always been taught by engaging visual teachers. My most impressionable teachers are not ones that sit idly behind a desk and lecture.   My theory may not be as specialized and researched as some theories, but it is practical, and has continued to be true for at least one person on this planet.


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