Thursday, June 21, 2007

Quizzing Effect Impacts Memory Interpretations

Every once and a while you read something that changes everything.

The other day I was reading Rob Potter's weblog, and I came across this post about his summer class. In that post, Dr. Potter mentions a Chronicle of Higher Education article on research about the relationship between quizzing and learning.

The underlying study found that the act of quizzing itself impacted learning. It was not that students studied for the quizzes -- it was the thought processes that went on while students tried to answer the quizzes, especially short answer quizzes.

"... Every time you test someone, you change what they know," Washington University psychology professor Henry L. (Roddy) Roediger III told the Chronicle.

The implications are huge.

First, I will likely never teach another undergraduate class that does not employ quizzing. I used to think that it was mean. Now I know that it works.

Secondly, the implications for my research are immediate and direct.

Consider our standard memory testing paradigm. First, we test free recall. That is, we ask participants to recall everything they can remember about the stimulus.

Oops. We already changed them.

Then, sometimes, we test cued recall. We changed them again.

Finally, we test recognition. But we've already changed the memory a lot.

"In the process of retrieving Fact A," said Washington psychology professor Kathleen B. McDermott, "if it takes you a minute to get there, you think, Hmm — what did I learn about this general topic? So in a sense, you're also retrieving Fact B and Fact C, even though that's not what you were directly asked to do."

To his credit, Texas Tech master's student Wes Wise proposed looking at some of his own data to see whether recall predicted later recognition months before the Chronicle story.

I guess that we'll have to run the data now.

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