From a theoretical viewpoint, educational interfaces that facilitate communicative actions involving representations central to a domain can maximize students' effort associated with constructing new schemas. In addition, interfaces that minimize working memory demands due to the interface per se, for example by mimicking existing non-digital work practice, can preserve students' attentional focus on their learning task. In this research, we asked the question: What type of interface input capabilities provide best support for science problem solving in both low- and high-performing students? High school students' ability to solve a diverse range of biology problems was compared over longitudinal sessions while they used: (1) hardcopy paper and pencil (2) a digital paper and pen interface (3) pen tablet interface, and (4) graphical tablet interface. Post-test evaluations revealed that time to solve problems, meta-cognitive control, solution correctness, and memory all were significantly enhanced when using the digital pen and paper interface, compared with tablet interfaces. The tangible pen and paper interface also was the only alternative that significantly facilitated skill acquisition in low-performing students. Paradoxically, all students nonetheless believed that the tablet interfaces provided best support for their performance, revealing a lack of self-awareness about how to use computational tools to best advantage. Implications are discussed for how pen interfaces can be optimized for future educational purposes, and for establishing technology fluency curricula to improve students' awareness of the impact of digital tools on their performance.
- Biology problem solving
- Digital paper and pen
- Educational interface tools and design
- Low-performing students
- Meta-cognitive self-awareness
- Pen interfaces