Using a recognition memory paradigm to assess student retention of course material
Nagle, Corinne Bulman
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Although the science of learning and memory has been well studied within the confines of laboratory environments, more recent investigations have attempted to apply these principles to educational practice. Understanding the mechanisms involved with the encoding, consolidation, and retrieval of knowledge learned in the classroom provides an avenue for improving instruction and designing interventions for struggling students. The current study examines the memorial mechanisms underlying the retention of anatomical information in first year gross anatomy students. This study uses a variant of the Remember/Know/New recognition memory paradigm to quantify participants' subjective memorial experience that, in turn, may be related to the underlying cognitive mechanisms used by students to retain information over time. Prior research has suggested that Remember and Know responses are associated with the memorial processes of Recollection and Familiarity, respectively. Thirty-one students from a gross anatomy course completed a computer-based memory task at three time points: prior to the course (time 1), after the completion of the course (time 2), and six months later (time 3). Students were presented with anatomical terms and were asked to respond as to whether they "Can Define", are "Familiar" with or "Don't Know" each term. It was predicted that students who performed better in the course would have a stronger sense of recollection immediately after the course as indexed by "Can Define" responses. Further, we predicted that these students would have more "Can Define" responses and fewer "Familiar" and "Don't Know" responses after six months relative to lower achieving students. The results show an increase in "Can Define" responses from time 1 to time 2 that were attenuated at time 3 with an accompanying increase in "Familiar" responses, suggesting students do not completely forget concepts but are not able to recall as many specific descriptive details compared to time 2. A positive correlation between final course grade and proportion of "Can Define" items at time 3 was revealed; suggesting the durability of learning is stronger in those that performed better in the course. These results offer a better understanding into the long-term retention of course content and a glimpse at individual differences in memory.