Going Beyond the Problem Given: How Human Tutors Use Post- Solution Discussions to Support Transfer
13 (1): "Special Issue on Caring for the Learner in honour of John Self "
Two studies investigated the role and effectiveness of post-solution, reflective dialogues in physics
tutorials. The first study investigated the instructional roles of post-solution discussions, their relationship to
problem-solving discussions, and features that predict learning. Seven tutors individually guided 15 students as they
worked on problems in the Andes physics tutoring system. Tutors adapted the post-solution discussions to students'
ability levels and their performance on the current problem. Qualitative analysis of the transcripts revealed several
roles of the post-solution dialogues—most prominently, explaining conceptual knowledge and integrating this
knowledge with strategic, problem-solving knowledge. The number of post-solution discussions students had with
their tutor, the number of discussions that abstracted from the current problem, and the number of tutor-initiated
discussions predicted transfer, as measured by pre-test to post-test gain score on problems similar to those solved in
Andes. Several tutorial strategies that are distributed between problem solving and post-solution reflection were
identified. A framework for describing distributed plans for reflection is proposed based on these analyses.
The second study investigated whether reflection questions such as those asked by the tutors in the first study
lead to better conceptual understanding and problem-solving ability, as measured by overall gain scores and gain
scores on conceptual and quantitative questions. It also examined whether human tutor-provided feedback on
students' responses—with its often multi-exchange, dialectic character—is more effective than a single, canned
explanation. Forty-six students solved problems in Andes in one of three conditions: with no reflection questions
after problem solving, with reflection questions discussed with human tutors, or with the same reflection questions
followed by canned feedback (without a human tutor). Students learned more with reflection questions and
feedback than without, but the canned feedback and human tutored conditions did not differ significantly. Hence,
overall, these studies support the practice of implementing post-solution reflective activities in intelligent tutoring
systems, but call into question the need for natural-language processing techniques to support these activities.