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Software that assists learning within a complex abstract domain: the use of constraint and consequentiality as learning mechanisms

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This paper describes a research project into undergraduates’ use of a software tool to learn symbolic logic—a complex abstract domain that has been shown to be intimidating for students. The software allows the students to manipulate proofs in certain ways and then calculates the consequences of their actions. A research method has been developed that allowed students’ use of this tool to be modelled, and this model was then used to identify, refine and create visual cues that provide support for students’ reasoning. The focus of this paper is the role of the software as an artefact to aid students’ visualisation of reasoning processes rather than the logic itself. The main mechanisms by which this visualisation is supported are the imposition of constraints on the actions available and the demonstration to students of the consequences of their actions. The study shows that the software encouraged experimentation with different routes to a proof, and constituted a challenge to fixated reasoning.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, England, MK7 6AA, Email: 2: Education and Professional Development, UCL, 1-19 Torrington Place, London, England, WC1E 6BT, Email: 3: The University of Edinburgh, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH8 9YL, Email: 4: Oxford University Computing Laboratory, Wolfson Building, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3QD, England, Email:

Publication date: 2003-11-01

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