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Journal of Technology Education

Journal of Technology Education

Volume 1, Number 1
Do Hands-On, Technology-Based Activities Enhance Learning by 
Reinforcing Cognitive Knowledge and Retention?
 
                        Anthony R. Korwin
                       Ronald E. Jones(1)
 
                          INTRODUCTION
 
               Technology education has passed through
          explicit phases from manual training through
          manual arts through industrial arts, to con-
          temporary programs in industry and technol-
          ogy.  These phases have been based on
          different psychologies and therefore, have
          produced varied rationales.  Since the
          1900's, one common link has been that the
          field is purported to be an important part of
          general education and therefore, can provide
          a meaningful educational experience.
               In St. Louis around 1870, Calvin
          Woodward decided that the most effective
          method to "...illustrate certain mechanical
          principles..." was to have his students con-
          struct models out of wood (Barlow, 1967,
          p.34).  Woodward felt that this particular
          hands-on experience demonstrated a practical
          use for various engineering precepts.  It was
          this reliance on objects, tools, and materi-
          als to teach mathematical and engineering
          theory that produced manual training and
          eventually, industrial arts ideology.
               Industrial arts, though, evolved more
          into a discipline oriented toward developing
          skills for the skills themselves rather than
          developing a knowledge of industry.  Hands-on
          activities included building projects that
          incorporated the learning of "...technical
          processes without conscious concern of the
          socio-cultural context in which they
          exist..."  (Lauda & McCrory, 1986, p.28).  In
          recent years, technology education has fo-
          cused on the use of tools and materials to
          help students understand concepts in technol-
          ogy and its relationships to various areas of
          education.
               In the transformation of curricula, the
          common denominator has remained hands-on ex-
          perimental activities.  Industrial arts has
          always used various projects to stimulate in-
          terest, develop skills, and increase learn-
          ing.  Technology education has continued to
          focus on hands-on activities and modified
          them, helping students become technologically
          literate by developing problem solving adap-
          tation skills and a positive attitude toward
          technology (Martin, 1985).  However, one
          might question the hands-on activity approach
          as an appropriate and effective basis for
          learning in industrial arts and technology
          education.
               The purpose of this study was to deter-
          mine if hands-on technology-based activities
          enhance learning among eighth grade students
          by reinforcing cognitive knowledge and im-
          proving retention.  Generally, it was de-
          signed to find out if increases in knowledge
          and subject interest were greater for those
          students given the opportunity to reinforce
          learning through laboratory activities.  Spe-
          cifically, the study addressed the following
          questions:
 
          1.  Is there a significant, measurable, know-
              ledge increase when technology-based
              hands-on activities are used to supple-
              ment regular classroom presentations?
              RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS #1:  Students partic-
              ipating in a hands-on group assignment
              would have higher scores the day after
              instruction than students receiving an
              illustrated lecture.
              RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS #2:  Students partic-
              ipating in a hands-on group assignment
              would have higher scores (on a test given
              after two weeks) than students receiving
              an illustrated lecture.
          2.  Do these hands-on activities establish
              greater retention of information pre-
              sented?
              RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS #3:There would be no
              retention loss between the first and sec-
              ond post-test for the hands-on method of
              instruction.
              RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS #4: There would be no
              retention loss between the first and sec-
              ond post-test for the illustrated lecture
              method of instruction.
 
                           BACKGROUND
 
               Educational theory supporting
          psychomotor activities to aid cognitive
          growth had its origins in the 1700's.  Though
          experiences were often part of personalized
          education, such as apprenticeships or trades
          passed from generation to generation, Jacque
          Rousseau and JoHann Heinrich Pestallozzi pro-
          posed that doing was not an end in itself,
          but a way of expanding learning (Barlow,
          1967).  Later, many theorists provided sup-
          port in favor of learning experiences that
          allowed the student active involvement with
          the subject matter.  Jean Piaget, who devel-
          oped a continuum of cognitive development,
          believed that a child could construct a more
          permanent knowledge base by experiencing
          something rather than just being told
          (Schwebel, 1973).
               John Dewey, known for his many innova-
          tive educational philosophies and support of
          industrial arts education, was of the strong
          opinion that experiences, specifically
          hands-on activities, were imperative in the
          educational process.  Students could blend
          theory and practice, success and failure, and
          school and society into a mental foundation
          for future thought (1980).  Furthermore, ac-
          tivities allowed them to see, raise, and seek
          out solutions for personal and motivational
          questions.  Dewey believed, however, that
          teaching skill for skill's sake was
          "...illiberal and immoral"  (1963, p. 260).
          His ideas concerning skill training in educa-
          tion are summarized as follows:
 
             The educator is to engage pupils in ac-
             tivities in such ways that while manual
             skill and technical efficiency are
             gained and immediate satisfaction found
             in the work, together with preparation
             for later usefulness, these things
             shall be subordinated to education --
             that is, to intellectual results and
             the forming of a socialized disposi-
             tion. (p. 197)
 
          Dewey further commented that "...any mode of
          skill which is achieved with deepening of
          knowledge and perfecting of judgement is
          readily put to use in new situations and is
          under personal control" (p. 259).
               Bruner (1966, p. 41), a supporter of
          varied learning experiences, stated that
          "...increasing the manipulability of a body
          of knowledge" creates both a physical and
          mental optimum learning structure and con-
          tended that physical operations create feed-
          back of learning that allow children to see
          it happen.  Lipson and Fischer (1983) sus-
          tained this reasoning, stating "Experiences
          without words are difficult to integrate, de-
          scribe, and retrieve.  Yet, words without ex-
          perience tend to have limited meaning.  The
          two reinforce each other and are defined by
          one another" (p.254).  Martinez (1985) fur-
          ther explains this in saying that a student
          who is introduced to a concept such as walnut
          wood will grasp a different meaning than a
          student who actually uses walnut and experi-
          ences its properties firsthand.
               Human memory has been the basis for much
          research and speculation on how information
          is processed, saved, and retrieved.  Re-
          searchers have identified two types of
          memory: short term and long term.  During the
          past ten years, developments in memory re-
          search identified four separate memories
          within the long and short term.  Just as a
          computer requires different microchips to
          handle screen memory, printer memory, com-
          puter language, and so forth, Adams (1976)
          identified separate memories each for
          auditory, visual, tactile, and body motor
          functions.  This implies that any information
          that more fully utilizes all four memories
          would be stronger and more easily retrieved.
          Craik and Lockhart (1972) believed that mem-
          ory is reliant on the depth that information
          is processed by more memories and strengthens
          the learning potential.  In their research,
          Boothby and Alverman (1984) found that visu-
          als, used in conjunction with lecture mate-
          rial, increased comprehension and retention
          of information.
               A myriad of studies were found that
          dealt with the cognitive, psychomotor, and
          affective domains.  Many research combina-
          tions concerning the three domains were lo-
          cated, with the exception of those addressing
          the use of psychomotor activities to increase
          or enhance cognitive learning and affective
          attitudes and motivation.  Clark (1967)
          studied physical performance as it related to
          both cognitive and psychomotor learning ac-
          tivities.
               A review of literature revealed that
          technology education has a basis in using
          hands-on activities to relate concepts.  Edu-
          cational theorists have stated that hands-on
          activities or experiences can lead to greater
          cognitive gains.  Previous research, however,
          has not addressed the cause and effect re-
          lationships between psychomotor activities
          and cognitive results; therein lies the basis
          of this study.
 
                           METHODOLOGY
 
               The objective was to find out if any
          measurable knowledge increases occurred when
          hands-on technology-based activities were
          used to supplement regular classroom presen-
          tations.  First, objectives and lesson plans
          for two separate teaching environments were
          developed by the instructor and validated by
          a team of educational and technical experts.
          Then, four eighth grade classes in industrial
          arts and math were selected to participate,
          as they were considered representative groups
          of students.  The students were randomly di-
          vided into two groups.  Duplicate enrollees
          were scheduled only once, resulting in a sam-
          ple of 50 of 72 possible eighth grade stu-
          dents.
               Two methods of instruction were used by
          one instructor in teaching a 40 minute tech-
          nical concept on geodesic domes to the 50
          students.  Group A (25 students) received in-
          formation through reading and a hands-on
          group assignment, while Group B (25 students)
          received information through reading and an
          illustrated lecture.  The hands-on assignment
          involved the construction of a model geodesic
          dome, using straws and pipe cleaners, while
          the illustrated lecture used slides and
          transparencies to show examples of designs
          and construction.  A post-test was adminis-
          tered the day following the lessons to deter-
          mine cognitive gains of each group.  Two
          weeks after the presentations, students were
          again given the post-test to measure re-
          tention levels.  Post-test results were com-
          pared to test the hypotheses.
               The testing instrument was developed us-
          ing the objectives and information to be cov-
          ered as guidelines for test questions.  An
          effort was made to avoid creating a test that
          was only repetition of facts.  While some
          questions did require simple fact recognition
          (for example: "Domes were used as early
          as...") other questions required mental cal-
          culations or thought (example:  Which of the
          following is not an advantage of using trian-
          gles over rectangles?).  Questions were pilot
          tested by administering them to a seventh
          grade reading class.  A computer generated
          test-item analysis was completed to identify
          possible poor discriminators.  A re-analysis
          of those questions resulted in one item being
          removed, leaving the total number of
          questions at 22.  A Kudar-Richardson analysis
          (KR 20) calculated a coefficient of reliabil-
          ity of 0.618 for the first post-test scores.
               After the first post-test scores were
          finalized, the average score of Group A and
          Group B was calculated based on the number of
          students in each group.  These mean values
          were compared, (using the Statworks program
          for the Apple Macintosh computer,) to calcu-
          late an unpaired t-test.  Two weeks later,
          the second post-test for each group was ad-
          ministered and the results were compared us-
          ing an unpaired t-test of significance.  In
          addition, the second post-test scores of each
          group were compared with the initial post-
          test scores, using a paired t-test, to spec-
          ify knowledge retention for each group.  The
          scores were tested at the .05 level of sig-
          nificance using critical values of statis-
          tical results based on 48 degrees of freedom
          (Hinkle, Wiersma, and Jurs, 1979).
 
                     FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
 
               Specific questions were posed to study
          the effectiveness of hands-on activities ver-
          sus stand-alone classroom lecture presenta-
          tions.  The findings are illustrated in
          Tables 1 and 2.
 
          TABLE 1
          T-TEST COMPARISON OF THE MEANS FROM THE FIRST
          POST-TEST, NEXT DAY
 
          ----------------------------------------------------------
          Group                    N   Mean   SD    DF   T     P
          ----------------------------------------------------------
 
          A (Hands-on Assignment)  25  14.52  2.74
 
          B (Illustrated Lecture)  25  11.88  3.02  48   3.24  .002
 
          ----------------------------------------------------------
 
          TABLE 2
          T-TEST OF MEANS OF THE SECOND POST-TEST COMPARISON,
          AFTER TWO WEEKS
 
          --------------------------------------------------
          Group            N   Mean   SD    DF   T     P
          --------------------------------------------------
 
          A                25  13.76  2.91
 
          B                25  11.56  3.54  48   2.40   .020
 
          ---------------------------------------------------
 
 
               QUESTION #1: Is there a significant,
          measurable knowledge increase when
          technology-based hands-on activities are used
          to supplement regular classroom presenta-
          tions?
               CONCLUSION:  As shown in Tables 1 and 2,
          Group A had a greater score on both post-
          tests.  From the statistical comparisons of
          Group A and Group B on post-test #1, it can
          be stated that there is a significant differ-
          ence between learning with and without
          hands-on activities.  The results suggest
          that organized psychomotor participation in-
          creases the learning of a given technological
          concept.  It can be generalized that hands-on
          activities are effective learning experiences
          for any applicable concept.
 
               QUESTION #2:  Do hands-on activities es-
          tablish greater retention of information pre-
          sented?
               CONCLUSION:  As shown in Tables 3 and 4,
          scores between post tests did not support any
          significant loss of knowledge for either
          Group A or Group B.  It was concluded that
          both teaching methods were adequate to enable
          students to retain   information they had
          learned.  Group A did lose slightly more in-
          formation after two weeks, but still had sig-
          nificantly more knowledge than Group B.  It
          can be generalized that retention abilities
          are consistent for most individuals; there-
          fore, if one student learns more than another
          student, he/she will retain more information
          over a period of time.
 
          TABLE 3
          T-TEST COMPARISON OF RETENTION, GROUP A
 
          -------------------------------------------------
          Post-test        N   Mean   SD    DF   T    P
          -------------------------------------------------
 
          Next day         25  14.52  2.74
 
          After two weeks  25  13.76  2.91  24   1.58  .127
 
          -------------------------------------------------
 
 
 
          TABLE 4
          T-TEST COMPARISON OF RETENTION, GROUP B
 
          --------------------------------------------------
          Post-test        N   Mean   SD    DF   T     P
          --------------------------------------------------
 
          Next day         25  11.88  3.02
 
          After two weeks  25  11.56  3.54  24   .54   0.591
 
          --------------------------------------------------
 
                IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
 
               The results of this research have sig-
          nificant implications for general education
          and specifically technology education.  The
          results suggest that hands-on activities en-
          hance cognitive learning.  Previous studies
          neglected to address psychomotor effects on
          cognitive growth, even when many educational
          theorists, like Dewey, supported learning us-
          ing psychomotor experiences.  The results
          also suggest that technology education has a
          strong basis in learning theory in its use of
          hands-on activities to relate technological
          concepts.  This is done in part by improving
          short and long term memory retention of in-
          formation through greater use of visual,
          auditory, tactile, and motor memory storage
          areas of the brain.
               The study is a foundation on which addi-
          tional studies can construct a more concrete
          platform of support for the use of hands-on
          activities in all educational subject areas.
          To aid further research attempts, the author
          recommends:
 
          1.  other research utilizing various
              technology-based hands-on activities
              should be conducted to further delineate
              the findings of this study;
          2.  research should be completed using dif-
              ferent age levels (K through 12) of sub-
              jects; and
          3.  research should be completed with regard
              to levels and degree of cognitive under-
              standing, for example, analysis, synthe-
              sis, and evaluation.
 
 
          ----------------
          1   Anthony Korwin is Coordinator, Industrial Cooperative 
              Education, East Aurora High School, Aurora, Illinois.  
              Ronald Jones is Professor, Department of Industrial 
              Technology, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas.
 
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          Permission is given to copy any
          article or graphic provided credit is given and
          the copies are not intended for sale.
 
Journal of Technology Education   Volume 1, Number 2       Spring 1990

 


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