Assisting learners to interpret graphs and tables with computer-based cognitive tools.

Year: 1999

Author: Ferry, Brian, Harper, Barry, Hedberg, John

Type of paper: Refereed paper

When learners interpret graphs and tables they must be able to read the labels, relate the labels and data to a specific context, described in the accompanying text, and then translate the meaning associated with the display of the data into words. Often learners experience difficulties in interpreting graphs because of the many modes of representation presented as, apart from a graph, verbal descriptions, tables and formulae are often used to represent the same relationship, and this, can confuse the issue by creating cognitive load. In particular, poorly organised data causes learners to divide their attention among the various pieces of data creating cognitive load that in turn leads to inefficient processing of information.

The purpose of this study was to investigate how cognitive tools (developed with HyperCard software) could be used to support learners to process information displayed by graphs and tables. The study had five goals.

1. To identify the cognitive strategies that learners employed when they interpreted graphs and tables.
2. To use the information gathered about the cognitive strategies that the learners employed to inform the design of a prototype of a set of cognitive tools that would assist them to interpret graphs and tables.
3. To trial the protoype of the cognitive tools with a group of learners and describe how they used them.
4. To use the information gathered about learner use of the prototype to inform improvements in the design of the cognitive tools.
5. To describe how learners used the improved version of the cognitive tools.

The findings describe how the simple, context-specific cognitive tools developed helped to reduce learner cognitive load associated with the interpretation of graphs and tables.