Volume 14 Issue 5 - June 18, 2010 PDF
Scaffolding Student-Generated Questions: Design and Development of a Customizable Online Learning System
Professor/Chairperson, Institute of Education, College of Social Sciences, National Cheng Kung University
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1. Introduction

Students have traditionally solved teacher-generated questions—questions that teachers think will be of relevance, importance and interest. The call for a shift to allocate some of this responsibility to students, and to diversify the sources of questions that students respond to by allowing students to formulate questions, has been acknowledged by teaching professionals as well as academia. In view of students' inexperience and perceived difficulty regarding question generation, the construction of various mechanisms to support students during the question generation process should warrant special attention.

Under the premise that student question generation activities in large class contexts may be more timely, convenient and logistically feasible if conducted using computer network technology, and that support is better provided according to need and on a case-by-case basis, a customizable online learning environment that accentuates various scaffolding techniques has been designed and developed.

2. Overview of the Customizable Scaffolded Student Question Generation Online Learning Environment

The developed system supports various types of student question generation learning activities that are frequently employed in all levels of educational systems—true-false, matching, multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, short-answer, and essay, etc. Moreover, information in the form of graphics, animation, sound, and video, etc. can be imported into the system to complement the text and act as testing stimuli, as deemed appropriate by authors of questions.

This system adopted the conceptual framework proposed by Lin et al. (1999) and employed it with a focus on addressing areas of difficulty for students engaged in question generation tasks. Lin, et al. (1999) suggested four kinds of scaffolding in e-learning environments: reflective social discourse, process prompts, process displays, and process models. For the “reflective social discourse” scaffolding, a separate question assessing and reasoning sub-system was installed to enhance interaction, collaboration and negotiation of meaning between authors of questions and their peers, who act as assessors. A set of built-in criteria embedded in the question assessing and reasoning sub-system are intended to serve as “prompts” for assessors and authors. Additionally, a set of generic question stems coupled with sample questions proposed and proven to enhance peer interaction and learning was built into the system to help students generate higher-order questions (see Fig. 1). To permit “process display,” all artifacts produced during the process are kept in a “learner portfolio” and structured for easy access by use of show/hide buttons embedded in the examined question (Fig. 2). Observational learning spaces are reserved for “process models,” where learners can access exemplary questions during the question generation activity.
Fig. 1. Generic Question Stems and Sample Questions
Fig. 2. Process Display

Finally, since different situations will require different kinds of support (that is, instructor, learner, subject matter, instructional event dependent, etc.), customizability for increased flexibility and variability is essential. The design of the system emphasizes functions and support mechanisms that can be dynamically changed to suit individual instructors' educational goals and instructional plans in different situations in the following dimensions: types of generated question accessible, kinds of sub-systems/functions students have access to, sets of criteria for question-assessment, sets of generic question stems and accompanying sample questions., and user identification display/concealment mode.

3. A Study of Students' Perceptions of the Usefulness of the Various System Support Mechanisms and its Influence on their Attitudes toward the Educational Potential of Student-Generated Questions

To assess the various built-in scaffolds used to support students' learning activities by means of question generation, a study of students' perceived usefulness of each of the mechanisms was devised. Additionally, considering that perceived usefulness has been found to play a prominent role in the diffusion and adoption of new technology, the relationship between students' perceptions of the usefulness of the scaffolding designs in the developed system, and their attitudes toward the educational potential of student-generated questions, was examined.

The data collected indicated that, by exploiting the capabilities of computers and network technology, the developed system provided a supportive learning environment for student's learning activities regarding question generation. Support features not yet included in other similar systems (including access to generic question stems with sample questions, access to model questions, multiple ways of communication between authors of question and assessors, and the ability to conceal one's real identity by anonymity or nickname, etc.), were confirmed to provide a high level of support. Finally, the regression test results supported that student attitudes were significantly predictive of students' perceived usefulness (β = 0.71).

*For a complete list of references please refer to the paper published in the “Computers in Human Behavior” or contact the corresponding author.
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