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Exploring Multi-text, Multi-modal Comprehension Processes

The research reported here was supported by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Campus Research Board. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Campus Research Board.

Jennifer Cromley, PI 

In formal education and in everyday life, people look for information on a single topic from multiple sources such as Internet sites, social media, broadcast media, magazines, etc. Psychologists have investigated how people make sense of multiple texts such as these, but have typically focused on text only (i.e., not videos, illustrations/diagrams, infographics). At the same time, a separate group of researchers has been investigating diagram-text or narrated video (i.e., multiple modalities or multi-modal) comprehension, but typically with single “texts”. Psychologists are just now (2 published studies) beginning to work at the intersection of these two areas of research, combining the insights and theories from multi-text research and multi-modal research to yield important insights about what has become an everyday activity. We propose two studies of undergraduate biology students learning from multi-text, multi-modal stimuli. In the first study, participants will say everything they are thinking out loud while learning from 6-8 texts, then will give a verbal explanation. In the second study, they will, in addition, have their eye gazes measured with an eye-tracking device. Analyses of strategies used and eye gazes will be related to the quality of verbal explanations.


In two studies, one on each of two biology topics, we will present a series of illustrated texts and ask students to learn the material well enough to explain the topic to a peer after reading the texts. We have chosen this as an important, deep-level learning task, rather than a more surface task such as troubleshooting an error message using results from a search engine. We will construct sets of texts that concern the same biology topic (e.g., structure and function of t cell receptors) and have How do processes used while learning from multiple multi-modal texts relate to the quality of explanations given post reading? We propose to conduct research at the intersection of these two bodies of research, multi-text and multi-modal comprehension, with undergraduate students learning from multiple illustrated texts. The main research question is: but not complete overlap of information so that a complete understanding requires integration of information from all of the illustrated passages. Texts will be assembled from Internet and textbook sources and will be checked by a substantial PhD biologist for scientific accuracy. Our goal is not to create ‘ideal’ diagrams or text passages, but rather to learn how students make sense of the types of multi-modal texts they are likely to actually see in textbooks and on websites.

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