Teaching Problem Solving in Introductory Physics Using Interactive Video-Enhanced Tutorials

Kathleen Koenig
Professor of Physics
University of Cincinnati

Need: Developing students’ problem-solving skills can be challenging, particularly in large courses. Under this project, the research team has developed and evaluated a set of web-based tutorials, Interactive Video-Enhanced Tutorials (IVETs), designed to promote effective problem-solving strategies. The IVETs are designed around multimedia learning principles and research on human learning and memory. Each focuses on important problem-solving approaches (e.g., energy conservation) by guiding students through the solution of a challenging and complex problem. IVETs include short expositions by a narrator interspersed with branching multiple-choice questions that include feedback, allowing students who require less guidance to navigate quickly, while students who struggle receive additional support and encouragement (affect) by a real person in a video, offering more personalized instruction and similar in certain respects to a live tutor.

The need for this new approach comes from previous research by the project team and others in developing online problem-solving tutorials. Many were found to be effective when used under the supervision of a researcher but were much less effective when completed at home. This suggests that students working on their own do not mentally engage at the level necessary for learning. Also, although online homework systems are widely available, with some offering tailored support, many students game the system, resulting in little impact on learning. Self-paced learning tools that motivate students to remain mentally engaged, while guiding them through complex problem-solving tasks, are not common and IVETs address this gap.

Guiding Questions:
The research provides formative evaluation for IVET improvement while contributing to the research literature. Research questions:
1. What patterns of behavior do students engage in when completing IVETs in remote settings?
2. What mechanisms encourage productive patterns of student behavior during IVET completion?
3. To what extent do IVETs support student learning, as measured by performance on a transfer problem?

By project end, 30 IVETs will be developed, with one for each textbook chapter in a typical two-semester introductory physics course. To date, nine IVETs have been tested for impact on student problem-solving abilities, where students’ performance on a transfer problem was measured across three treatment groups (same instructor): IVET-only, Video-solution only, or no treatment. In most instances, the IVET group out-performed the Video-solution group. For all others, there was no statistical difference. In all cases, the IVET and Video-only groups out-performed the no-treatment group. In addition, the use of log files and interviews have uncovered patterns in student behavior that has led to a better understanding of instructional strategies that optimize student use of online learning systems.

Broader Impacts:
This new genre of interactive video materials serves as a model for developers of web-based instruction in other STEM courses at the undergraduate and secondary levels. The IVETs and research findings on their effective use will help students (especially underprepared) acquire the skills necessary for complex problem-solving tasks, which are essential for today’s workforce. This approach addresses a national concern over low graduation rates of STEM majors, particularly among underrepresented populations. IVETs are freely available via the project website.


Robert Teese, Rochester Institute of Technology; Alexandru Maries, University of Cincinnati