Test-enhanced learning: Applying principles of cognitive psychology to education

Awardees: Karl K. Szpunar (FAS), Daniel L. Schacter (FAS)

Summary: Applying principles of cognitive psychology to education. Awardees plan to study how formative assessment can be better used in lecture courses to promote learning.

“The general idea for our study really came out of some observations that we have made . . . students frequently complain that over the extended period of a lecture, they find it harder and harder to pay attention to what they are being taught.” — Karl Szpunar

Daniel Schacter, a memory researcher, and Karl Szpunar, a postdoctoral fellow, turned their scholarly attention to a recurring issue voiced by their students: the struggle to sustain attention during lectures. The team found that intermittently breaking up lectures with quizzes or comprehension checks produces a 25 percent increase in a student’s ability to focus on and learn from lectures. Their work was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was covered by the Boston Globe and other mass media outlets, generating extremely positive responses from scientists and educators.

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