Nonprofit textbook publisher OpenStax is participating in a study of student highlighting habits. It’s working with researchers from Rice University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, and the University of California, San Diego, on software that uses highlighting to help improve student comprehension and knowledge retention.
The $1 million research program, funded by one of 18 grants awarded by the National Science Foundation, will ask OpenStax users to volunteer content they highlight to a database to be mined for clues about their understanding of the text. Researchers also plan laboratory tests at Rice, UC-Boulder, and UCSD to create software to leverage the information gathered from the volunteered highlights.
“A number of studies have shown that highlighting does little to improve learning outcomes, but students tend to think that it does, and it makes them feel good about studying,” Philip Grimaldi, a research scientist for OpenStax, said in an article for phys.org. “At the same times, college students generally aren’t willing to change how they study, so we want to piggyback on what they’re already doing—spontaneously annotating passages of text—and turn that from a marginal activity into one that improves learning.”
The goal is to develop software that predicts how well students perform on tests based on what they highlight in their textbooks. From that information, researchers want to build a tool that creates more effective quizzes and reviews, and determines the times that are best to present content so students get the most out of the material.
“The idea is to reformulate selected passages into review questions that encourage the active reconstruction and elaboration of knowledge,” said Richard Baraniuk, founder and director of OpenStax. “The design and implementation of the tool will be informed by both randomized controlled studies within the innovative OpenStax textbook platform and in coordinated laboratory studies.”