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Using interaction patterns in a visual problem-solving task to detect learners’ confusion

Research team: Dr. Amael Arguel, Prof. Lori Lockyer, Dr. Mariya Pachman, Prof. Ottmar Lipp
CIC specialist: Dr. Kevin Chai

The ARC Science of Learning Research Centre, the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie and the School of Psychology at  Curtin University are interested in studying confusion in learners. Confusion is an emotion that learners can experience when they are learning complex content or trying to solve difficult problems. Confusion can sometimes be harmful when it leads to frustration; but can also be beneficial when it promotes engagement. This study aims to provide insights on the dynamics of emotions that are experienced during a problem-solving activity, with a focus on the role of confusion in engaging learners in the activity. Understanding how confusion can be beneficial may provide significant clues on how to improve learning outcomes in digital interactive environments. However, because confusion is an emotional state, it can be challenging to detect within digital environments.

This study evaluates a methodology based on recording the interactions of learners with solving a puzzle and to identify different puzzle solving strategies as indicators of the level of confusion. The learning material used in our study is based on a digital adaptation of the Lights Out Deluxe puzzle and 31 participants were recruited from a University student population to participate in the study. This adaptation was developed as a JavaScript Web application to record participant interactions with the puzzle and is presented on a touchscreen display in addition to using an eye tracker (see figure above). Applied to real-world digital learning environments, an extension of this methodology has the potential to provide real-time indicators of confusion, which could be employed to the management of learners’ confusion in digital learning environments.