Planning an experimental methodology for measuring cognitive performance: Involving spatial relations and logical reasoning

Year: 2003

Author: McKay, Elspeth

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper describes a comprehensive experiment which spanned four years, with a total of 280 volunteer students participating. To complete the work a novel, interdisciplinary, conceptual framework was implemented comprising: instructional science (for the concept learning models), cognitive psychology (for defining the cognitive style construct), and educational research (to provide the measurement tools for the instructional outcomes). In order to do this, the methodology contained the following elements: a procedure to determine participant's cognitive style, testing instrumentation, which included: a pre-test to evaluate prior domain knowledge, and a post-test to measure improved performance; a cognitive performance measurement tool, capable of accurately positioning participant performance relative to each other, and a test analysis tool to articulate the significance of the findings. The overarching goal of the research was to evaluate the contextual components of instructional strategies, for the acquisition of complex programming concepts. Therefore, a clear definition of the parameters of each research variable was required to determine whether the instructional conditions had an effect on the cognitive performance outcomes. The key research parameters used included: the method (learning content, instructional conditions, presentation mode, learner characteristics), the measurable learning outcomes (the interaction of instructional method and cognitive style construct). Overall, there were two exploratory studies and a final experiment conducted. Each of the experiments consisted of four stages: cognitive style screening test, pretest to determine prior domain knowledge, instruction period, post-test. The Cognitive Style Construct provided the 2-ways of describing an individual's approach to organizing and representing information (Riding and Cheema, 1991): Wholist-Analytic (the individual's mode of processing information, Verbal-Imagery (the representation of information during thinking). This cognitive style construct proved to be a useful cognitive modelling tool. Richard Riding's Cognitive Styles Analysis (a computerized program), was used as the screening test.