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IES Grant

Title: Teaching Perceptual and Conceptual Processes in Graph Interpretation
Center: NCER Year: 2012
Principal Investigator: Franconeri, Steven Awardee: Northwestern University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/15/2012-7/14/2016) Award Amount: $1,598,108
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305A120531
Description:

Co-Principal Investigators: David H. Uttal (Northwestern University); Priti Shah (University of Michigan)

Purpose: Throughout K–12 education, science inquiry standards and curricula emphasize the importance of developing the skills needed to comprehend graphically presented data. Learning to extract relational information from graphs requires specialized processing and both conceptual and perceptual skills. At the core of this study is the process by which the visual system transforms pictorial representations into a set of relations among objects. This project will explore how students extract these relations (e.g., through a serial inspection of one object or value at a time) and whether the order of this serial inspection influences comprehension relations among the objects—what the researchers call a visual routine. The researchers will explore the role that learning specific visual routines for extracting relational information from graphs plays in acquiring scientific knowledge. They will also test whether these routines differ across ages and levels of expertise, and they will explore ways of teaching students to use routines effectively.

Project Activities: The researchers will complete three sets of experiments with elementary school and high school students. The first set of experiments will explore how and when visual routines operate across different types of graphs and judgments. The second set of experiments will identify manipulations of routines that guide graph comprehension. In the third set of experiments, the researchers will study whether they can teach students the comprehension-enhancing routines and whether this training transfers to new types of graphs. The researchers will assess changes in graph comprehension, graphical literature, familiarity with graphing, and working memory. Eye tracking will be used to measure the presence of students' visual routines.

Products: The products of this project will be preliminary evidence of the role of dynamic visual routines in extracting information from graphs, and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Research will be conducted in laboratories at Northwestern University and at the University of Michigan.

Sample: The sample includes high school juniors and seniors (16–18 years old), third-graders, and students in the summer immediately after completing fourth grade. These students will be from the metropolitan areas near Evanston, IL and Ann Arbor, MI.

Intervention: The researchers will develop a model of graph comprehension to guide graphical design principles, graphical scaffolding principles, and instructional techniques for teaching graph comprehension.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will complete three sets of experiments. The first set of experiments will answer how and when visual routines operate across different types of graphs and judgments. This set of experiments uses an eye-tracker to examine the visual routine used by students, as reflected by their eye movements. The second set of experiments will identify manipulations of routines that guide graph comprehension. The researchers will investigate whether, and how, manipulations of routines improve the comprehension of graphs, including open-ended tests of memory (e.g., can you remember what was on the graph), and theory-evidence coordination. For example, the researchers will test if students with high working memory benefit more from serial processing in graphs than students with low working memory because they are able to keep track of instructions and multiple relations. In the third set of experiments, the researchers will study whether they can teach students the comprehension-enhancing routines and whether this training transfers to new types of graphs. The team will explore whether students with good graphical reasoning skills require or benefit from instruction as much as those with less knowledge about graphs. Across all of these experiments, students will be randomly assigned to different routine guidance conditions and graph formats, and the researchers will assess changes in graph comprehension. Some experiments use within subjects designs, in which the same subjects are exposed to multiple conditions that specifically test the hypothesis being considered or to other conditions that test the counterfactual. Other experiments use a between subject design, in which groups are assigned randomly to the treatment(s) or to a control, which represents the counterfactual hypothesis.

Control Condition: Each proposed set of experiments contains individualized sets of control conditions, comparing the effects of the routine manipulations against standard graph viewing conditions, or comparing different routine manipulations, both of which may either not help graph comprehension or may even impair comprehension.

Key Measures: Researchers will administer tests of graphical literacy and comprehension, and will develop a questionnaire assessing third-graders' familiarity with graphing. A Counting Span Test, in which students count dots on a sequence of displays then recall the number of dots in each set, will be used to assess students' verbal working memory. Eye tracking will be used to measure the presence of students' visual routines (including eye movements from larger to smaller values, from left to right values, and that follow the linguistic ordering of the question).

Data Analytic Strategy: Depending upon the research question, either 1 or 2 factor repeated analyses of variance (ANOVAs) or 1-way ANOVAs will be used. Researchers will conduct both omnibus and post-hoc pair-wise tests.

Publications

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Michal, A. L., and Franconeri, S. L. (2017). Visual routines are associated with specific graph interpretations. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 2(1): 20.

Michal, A.L., and Franconeri, S.L. (2014). The Order of Attentional Shifts Determines What Visual Relations We Extract. Journal of Vision, 14(10).

Michal, A.L., Uttal, D., Shah, P. and Franconeri, S.L. (2016). Visual routines for extracting magnitude relations. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23(6): 1802–1809.

Yuan, L., Uttal, D., and Franconeri, S. (2016). Are Categorical Spatial Relations Encoded by Shifting Visual Attention between Objects?. PLoS ONE , 11(10).


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