ACTing Smarter Online

Research Base

ACTing Smarter Online is based upon two foundational bodies of literature.  The first deals with the ways in which we can use technology to individualize instruction and work within each student’s “zone of proximal development.”  The second deals with how we can use technology to help struggling students overcome “learned helplessness” in order to be successful on high-stakes tests.  Some key research is listed below.

Technology and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

1.  Title: Vygotsky, Tutoring and Learning.

Authors: Wood, DavidWood, Heather

Maintains that a common set of principles governs all tutoring, no matter what the age range, and extending to a variety of formats (including computers). Compares Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development with "scaffolding," both concepts relating to the process of effective educational cooperation between adults and children.  
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2.  Title: Processes for Developing Scaffolding in a Computer Mediated Learning Environment.

Authors: Bull, Kay S.Shuler, PaulOverton, RobertKimball, SarahBoykin, CynthiaGriffin, John

When in the “zone of proximal development” for a particular skill or piece of information, a learner is ready to learn but lacks certain prerequisites. Scaffolding is an interactive process in which a teacher or facilitator assists such a learner to build a "structure" to contain and frame the new information. Scaffolding can be provided by teachers, peers, or computers, and may include the use of tutoring, performance systems, and reciprocal teaching. Online scaffolding practices include scaffolding embedded in the information, such as visual cuing, separate web pages of directions on what to notice or what process to employ, tutorials that are interactive or downloadable, help pages, additional explanatory links, or communication forms to contact the instructor or peers.

3.  Title: The Effects of a Meta-cognitive Computer Writing Tool on Classroom Learning Environment, Student Perceptions and Writing Ability.

Author: Evans, Karen S.

A study investigated how the introduction of a computer writing tool that provides meta-cognitive guidance to students interacting with it--the Writing Partner2 (WP2)--influenced the classroom environment, and explored both effects "with" and effects “of” working with such a computer tool.

4.  Title: Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual

Author: Rosemary Luckin

In this article the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is considered as the foundation for a software design frame-work. The issues of interactivity and collaboration are the focus of our interpretation of Vygotsky’s work for application to the software design process. The Ecolab is a piece of educational software developed using this Vygotskian design framework. It is aimed at 10 and 11-year old children learning about Ecology and has been evaluated with a class of such learners. The results of this evaluation are discussed in terms of the interactions and collaborations children experienced and in the light of the learning gains they made while using the software. It was concluded that the ZPD is a useful theoretical construct for educational software design, but that creating the most effective collaborative interactions between software and the computers is complex and individual to each learner. In addition, children were not effective at set-ting themselves challenging tasks or in seeking appropriate assistance. To be successful such software therefore needs to embody flexible and fadable scaffolding and either maintain or expect as input, sufficient information about the individual learner to offer them appropriately challenging activities.

Technology and Overcoming Learned Helplessness

1.  Title: Assistive and Adaptive Technology--Supporting Competence and Independence in Young Children with Disabilities.

Author: Brett, Arlene

Argues that computers and related technology can be an important asset in the classrooms of young children with disabilities. Suggests that this technology can promote mobility, communication, and learning; increase independence; augment abilities; compensate for learning challenges; overcome learned helplessness; and foster competence and independence.

Title: Learned Helplessness: The Effect of Failure on Test-Taking

Authors: Firmin, MichaelHwang, Chi-EnCopella, MargaretClark, Sarah

This study examined learned helplessness and its effect on test taking. Students were given one of two tests; the first began with extremely difficult questions and the other started with easy questions. The researchers hypothesized that those who took the test beginning with difficult questions would become easily frustrated and possibly doubt their intellectual ability. This would result in the participants missing easy questions when compared to those who took the test which began with the easy questions. The result of the study confirmed the hypothesis. The results of this study could also be applied to other classroom tests and standardized tests where learned helplessness could negatively affect test scores.
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3.  Title: Poor Performance After Unsolvable Problems: Learned Helplessness or Self-Esteem Protection?

Authors: Frankel, ArthurSnyder, Melvin L.

People often perform poorly on tasks following experience with unsolvable problems. Two competing explanations for this performance deficit (learned helplessness and egotism) were tested. Subjects were given either solvable or unsolvable discrimination problems and then a series of anagrams which were alleged to be either highly or moderately difficult. Subjects previously given unsolvable problems did better on the anagrams when led to believe the anagrams were highly difficult. This result is contrary to a learned helplessness theory interpretation which attributes performance deficits following unsolvable problems to the belief that outcomes are independent of responses. Instead, this result supports an egotism explanation which maintains that people are not likely to try hard on a task following experience with unsolvable problems. That is, following failure, people are not likely to try hard on a task, unless a poor performance would not pose a further threat to their self-esteem.

4.  Title: Generality of learned helplessness in man.

Authors: Hiroto, Donald S.; Seligman, Martin E.

Notes that learned helplessness-the interference with instrumental responding following inescapable aversive events-has been found in animals and man. The present study tested for the generality of the debilitation produced by uncontrollable events across tasks and motivational systems. 4 experiments with a total of 96 college students were simultaneously conducted: (a) pretreatment with inescapable, escapable, or control aversive tone followed by shuttlebox escape testing; (b) pretreatment with insoluble, soluble, or control discrimination problems followed by anagram solution testing; (c) pretreatments with inescapable, escapable, or control aversive tone followed by anagram solution testing; and (d) pretreatments with insoluble, soluble, or control discrimination problems followed by shuttlebox escape testing. Learned helplessness was found with all 4 experiments: Both insolubility and inescapability produced failure to escape and failure to solve anagrams. It is suggested that inescapability and insolubility both engendered expectancies that responding is independent of reinforcement. The generality of this process suggests that learned helplessness may be an induced "trait."

5.  Title: Learned Helplessness: Theory and Evidence

Authors: Maier, Steven F.Seligman, Martin E. P.

Authors believes that three phenomena are all instances of "learned helplessness," instances in which an organism has learned that outcomes are uncontrollable by his responses and is seriously debilitated by this knowledge. This article explores the evidence for the phenomena of learned helplessness, and discussed a variety of theoretical interpretations.