WebAssign’s new Deep Help system provides on-demand, multi-level assistance to students when and where they run into difficulty. This system was designed to help every student best by using principles from the Zone of Proximal Development, Knowledge Space Theory, and Cognitive Load Theory. When applied together these theories provide the foundation for the innovative design of the Deep Help system.
Online Homework Usage
Unlike analog homework, students can access online learning environments at any hour of the day and analytics are available to track student usage patterns. As shown below, student usage peaks in the evening, when instructors tend to be unavailable.
Online learning environments often incorporate various tools to provide real-time assistance to the student, including hints, feedback, solutions, videos, eBooks, and access to example problems. Students in introductory-level courses frequently come from a diverse set of education backgrounds and consequently require different types and levels of assistance.
Zone of Proximal Development
Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development concept describes the range of abilities that a learner cannot perform independently, but can perform with assistance.
The role of a teacher is to provide guidance and assistance so that the learner can accomplish tasks in the center section. Teachers can use online learning systems as an extension of their role to provide additional assistance when they are not available. Organizing which tasks fall into each of these segments is further described by the next framework.
Knowledge Space Theory
Knowledge Space Theory considers the dependent relationship between subsets of knowledge. For instance, the concept of the balanced equation for a reaction is a necessary prerequisite for the concept of stoichiometry.
For instance, in Figure 3a, an understanding of B requires a prerequisite understanding of A. Similarly, D depends on B and C, indicating that to understand D, a learner must already comprehend A, B, and C. Thus a knowledge state of ACE, FACE, or CAB would be possible, but FEB or DEC would not.
Applying the Zone of Proximal Development to a Knowledge Space diagram requires that the three regions be aligned in ways allowed by the dependencies in the diagram. A hypothetical example of this is illustrated in Figure 3b, that shows a learner able to accomplish A,B,C,E, and F without assistance, D and G with assistance, but unable to perform H. The dependencies make clear that if, for instance, F required assistance, then G would require assistance as well.
Cognitive Load Theory
The major idea behind Cognitive Load Theory is the assumption of a finite cognitive load capacity in a learner. This capacity is spread among intrinsic, extraneous, and germane aspects of the activity being performed. Intrinsic cognitive load comes from the difficulty and complexity of the concept. Extraneous cognitive load relates to the means through which a concept is presented and germane load addresses the construction of schemas. This theory indicates that in order for the student to use the majority of his or her cognitive abilities for learning, it’s important to avoid extraneous tasks and distractions.
Deep Help Framework
The Deep Help framework was designed to provide stepped tutorials for prerequisite information based on the learning theories described above. Students can dive deeper into the provided extra support as needed, until they fully understand all elements required to perform the original problem. While many interactive tutorials and other help tools are associated at the question level in a student’s assignment, the Deep Help system is associated with individual steps in a tutorial (Figure 4).
Rather than having four tutorials to choose from, in the Deep Help system each step of the tutorial only has one or two options for a learner to choose. The multi-step approach used in the tutorial helps the student see which step they are having difficulty with and lowers cognitive demand by giving them easy access to the relevant reference materials, as well as a link to the tutorial, which leads to the Deep Help.
Instructors have full control over student access to tutorials and can configure Deep Help to always be available or available only after a specified number of answer submissions. To explore this unique learning framework further view a basic demo or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how to get started with a free trial semester of WebAssign’s Deep Help system.