The Role of Eye Movements in Enhancing Transfer

Another new article recently was published that extends a very well-traveled research problem even further. I won’t give it away for those unfamiliar, but Duncker’s radiation problem is an oft-studied example of analogical transfer (or lack thereof). A paper last year by a former advisor of mine found that acting out (or enacting) certain actions increases students’ ability to solve a transfer problem. Via Steve Higgins, I found out that this year, in a follow-up to another study by Grant & Spivey, Thomas and Lleras have used eye tracking hardware to show that even moving your eyes (in certain specific spatial patterns) is enough to improve student performance on this problem (reprint available by email here).

What are the instructional implications? Well, in the former case (actions with your hands or body), Glenberg for example published a study showing how physically acting out (or even merely imagining acting out) the elements of a story enhances children’s comprehension. For eye movements, however, the implications are less clear, since eye movements are typically only like deictic gestures, moving to focus on this spot or that location. Sort of like what we do with a computer mouse or when we are pointing with our hand. But our hands and bodies can do other types of gestures better as well such as shapes (iconic gestures) and temporal processes (enactive modeling). Student eye movements of course are not something you can “control.” Thomas and Lleras had participants do deictic eye movements to different spots in a particular temporal order that resembled the process needed to solve the problem. That’s not a natural activity to do, but perhaps one day if or when eye tracking technology is more common/affordable/accessible and vision-guided navigation interfaces are more widespread perhaps it could have more instructional implications.

Posted in embodiment, research
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