Explaining Spatial Problem Solving in terms of Cognitive Load or Responsiveness and Selective Attention

Year: 1998

Author: Owens, Kay, Stevens, Kate

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

When students respond to problems that require visualisation skills such as those required in spatial problem-solving tasks with manipulatives or computer assistance, there can be an interference effect resulting from cognitive overload (English, 1996). On the other hand, van der Heijden (1992) has argued that both the filtering and spotlighting metaphors for handling visual information are inadequate in explaining experimental results of many studies on visual perception. He claims that the "too large capacity" at the visual perception level will be best understood in terms of selective attention. Selective attention is affected by expectation and intention. Selective attention can rapidly change in a spatial problem solving situation. It is influential together with imagery, concepts, affect, and self-monitoring in students' responsiveness in solving spatial problems (Owens, 1994). Responsiveness is a key element in understanding students' learning through spatial problem solving. In a cyclical way, students' cognitive thinking affected their responsiveness which in turn influenced the materials. The type of responding affects the attention and intention of the subjects. This can also influence task load.

The study presented in this paper investigated:

1. the effect of different responses, namely speaking, doing, listening, and passive looking on adult performance (response rate and accuracy) on a spatial judgment task (angle recognition).
2. the effect of task complexity on response rate and accuracy on the task; increased difficulty is said to increase cognitive load;
3. the retrospective recall of participants in general and in the different groups in terms of cognitive load versus attention and responsiveness, thatis matters of effort, stress, fatigue, versus selective attention,expectations, intentions, perceptions, feelings, knowledge, and responsiveness;
4. the think aloud (spoken) responses, retrospective data, and task performance of the speaking group.

The subjects undertook a pretest, training, and posttest on recognising equal angles in complex diagrams under one of four conditions that affected their type of responding. A factorial design consisting of a between-subject factor, response type (speaking, doing, listening, and passive looking), and a within-subject factor, task complexity (low, high) was used to assess whether task-complexity cognitive load or type of responding has a greater affect on learning.

The retrospective and think-aloud data were analysed qualitatively with coded data being used to find frequencies of occurrences of behaviour but also to give some explanation of how the students were thinking and responding. Preliminary results from this qualitative analysis will be used in interpreting the findings of the experimental results.