Teachers For Research & Feedback (TFRF) Researcher Spotlight: Avery Closser

This month we shine the TFRF spotlight on Avery Closer, a researcher who has been actively recruiting teachers for her research opportunities. Avery sat down with Allishah Luke, Product Associate for The ASSISTments Foundation and this is what she had to say...



Allishah: 

Hello Avery, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me and agreeing to be a part of the Teachers For Research & Feedback Researcher Spotlight Series. The first question I have for you is: How long have you been conducting research within the  ASSISTments platform?


Avery:

Hi Allishah - thank you for interviewing me and giving me the opportunity to share my story. 

I have been conducting research in ASSISTments for the past three years as a graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). My research explores how subtle perceptual changes to instructional materials impact the way that students reason and learn about math. This work is incredibly interesting and timely, especially as online learning resources have become more central to education. 


Allishah: 

Remote learning and the ways in which online tools can impact students’ learning is huge these days! Let’s dive a little deeper into the research - you spoke about “subtle perceptual changes to instructional materials and how they impact students' reasoning and learning about math,” - mind diving into this a bit more?


Avery: 

Sure, I’d love to! In my research, I study how subtle perceptual changes to instructional materials impact the way that students reason and learn about math in online settings. My goal is to provide feasible recommendations for online platforms like ASSISTments to provide students with effective instructional support such as worked examples that are specifically designed to help students in online environments and problem sets that provide early algebra students with perceptual cues that direct students’ attention to important pieces of information in math expressions.

For example, in my first research project with the ASSISTments platform, I analyzed data from an experiment. My colleagues and I found that when students viewed expressions with spacing that is incongruent with the order of operations (e.g., 4  *  5+3), they were more likely to make mistakes and take longer to solve problems. However, when students viewed expressions with spacing that is congruent with the order of operations (e.g., 4*5  +  3) they outperformed their peers. This finding was true for students in fifth through twelfth grade and even for students with different levels of prior knowledge! We concluded that students tend to rely on perceptual cues like spacing regardless of their age or knowledge. More broadly, tiny manipulations, like adjusting the spacing in equations presented in online homework assignments, can impact how students solve problems and could help support learning in online platforms like ASSISTments in the future. 

Most recently, my colleagues and I conducted a study in ASSISTments to see how different presentations of worked examples impact the way that algebra students learn. We designed six different versions of worked examples that leveraged the affordances of presenting worked examples online rather than in a textbook or on a whiteboard. For example, some worked examples were presented as looping GIFs and some were presented as short videos that showed the transformation process for each equation. We found that all of the worked example presentations were helpful for learning so our next step is to consider how students’ perceptions of the worked examples (e.g., were the videos too fast or too long?) might change the way that we make modifications to these worked examples in the future. The ASSISTments platform made it easy and efficient to collect data and we really appreciate all of the teachers who read our notice in the TFRF Newsletter and took the time to have their students participate in our study! 


Allishah: 

Our TFRF teachers are really the best! Tell us more about your involvement with the Graduate Research Innovation Exchange (GRIE) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)? Also, congratulations on placing 1st in the Business and Social Science Category for your  “Monkey See or Monkey Do?” Presentation!


Avery: 

Thank you so much! The GRIE (Graduate Research Innovation and Exchange) competition is an annual event at WPI. Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers across different disciplines showcase their work in a fun poster session that is open to the community. GRIE is a fantastic experience for graduate students to practice sharing their research, especially with individuals who might work in different fields.  Additionally, a panel of judges from WPI and local industry select finalists and winners from each discipline. This year, I shared the plan for my dissertation research on worked examples in algebra that I will conduct this fall. I was very excited to learn that my presentation won the 2021 Social Science & Business category!


Allishah: 

Avery, Thank You so much for taking the time to speak with me. For our TFRF readers who are interested in following your research, is there a website you would like to share with us or links to any research papers?


Avery: 

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share some of my research that has been conducted thanks to the ASSISTments platform! And thank you to all of the teachers who support and participate in learning sciences research through ASSISTments! 

I encourage readers to follow my research via my personal website, www.averyhclosser.com . Also, here is the link to the paper describing the first project I worked on using the ASSISTments platform, “Spacing Out: Manipulating Spatial Features of Mathematical Expressions Affects Performance”: https://jnc.psychopen.eu/index.php/jnc/article/view/5899

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