An Investigation of the Impact of a Social Constructivist Teaching
Approach, based on Trigger Questions, Through Measures of Mental
Workload and Efficiency
Giuliano Orru
, Federico Gobbo
, Declan O’Sullivan
, Luca Longo
School of Computing, College of Sciences and Health, Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin, Ireland
Faculty of Humanities, Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication,
University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Department of Humanities, University of Turin, Turin, Italy
School of Computer Science and Statistics, The University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
ADAPT: The Global Centre of Excellence for Digital Content and Media Innovation, Dublin, Ireland
Cognitive Load Theory, Cognitive Load Measurement, Cognitivism, Social Constructivism, Trigger Questi-
ons, Concept Maps, Performance, Efficiency.
Social constructivism is grounded on the construction of information with a focus on collaborative learning
through social interactions. However, it tends to ignore the human mental architecture, pillar of cognitivism.
A characteristic of cognitivism is that instructional designs built upon it are generally explicit, contrarily
to constructivism. This position paper proposes a novel learning task that is aimed at combining both the
approaches through the use of trigger questions in a collaborative activity executed after a traditional delivery
of instructions. To evaluate this new task, a metric of efficiency based upon a measure of mental workload and
a measure of performance is proposed. The former measure is taken from Ergonomics, and two well know
subjective self-reporting mental workload assessment techniques are envisioned. The latter measure is taken
from an objective quantitative assessment of the performance of learners employing concept maps.
The theoretical premises of this position paper relate
cognitivist and social constructivist approaches to le-
arning. The former is built upon the human mental
architecture and is grounded in the transferral of in-
formation from short to long term memory, suppor-
ting in practice learning. From the cognitivist point of
view, receiving explicit instructions is ‘condicio sine
qua non’ the transfer of information can occur. The
latter is grounded in the construction of information
with a focus on the collaborative nature of learning
which is a product of social interactions. However, as
Sweller (2009) pointed out, constructivism in general
ignores the human mental architecture. As a conse-
quence, constructivism can not lead to instructional
designs aligned to the way humans learn, so they are
set to fail. An important issue of constructivism is the
lack of explicit instructional designs (Kirschner et al.,
2006). The research question being proposed in this
paper is: To what extent can a social constructivist
activity improve the efficiency of a traditional cogniti-
vist activity when added to it? To answer this, an ex-
isting metric of teaching efficiency proposed by Paas
and Van Merri
enboer (1993) is adopted. This is based
upon two other measures: the cognitive load expe-
rienced by learners and their performance. However,
both these two measures are hard to be precisely and
objectively quantified. An important theory in educa-
tional psychology, based upon the construct of cogni-
tive load, is the Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). This
is a theoretical framework that provides guidelines to
assist instructors in the presentation of information
by incorporating explicit instructional design to foster
the learners’ activities and optimise their intellectual
performance (Sweller et al., 1998). CLT argues that
instructional designs can generate three types of load:
the extraneous, the intrinsic and the germane load.
The extraneous load corresponds to the way by which
the information is presented. The intrinsic load re-
fers to the level of difficulty of an underlying learning
task while the germane load relates to the mental re-
sources used to complete the learning task by creating
schemata of knowledge in working memory (Sweller,
Orru, G., Gobbo, F., O’Sullivan, D. and Longo, L.
An Investigation of the Impact of a Social Constructivist Teaching Approach, based on Trigger Questions, Through Measures of Mental Workload and Efficiency.
DOI: 10.5220/0006790702920302
In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2018), pages 292-302
ISBN: 978-989-758-291-2
2019 by SCITEPRESS – Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
2010). Regrettably, despite decades of research en-
deavour, no empirical measures of the three types of
load have emerged. As a consequence, the theory has
been criticised and believed not to be scientific in na-
ture as it does not allow empirical investigations (Ger-
jets et al., 2009; De Jong, 2010). Contrarily, the situ-
ation in Ergonomics is favourable, and an entire field
of research is devoted to the development of measu-
res of Mental Workload (MWL), a psychological con-
struct strictly connected to cognitive load. According
to Wickens (2012), MWL is the amount of the mental
resources that humans need to carry on a task. This
is connected to the human working memory which
is limited in its capacity so, to get an optimal per-
formance, it is necessary not to exceed its limits. If
this occurs, the mental resources are no longer suffi-
cient to complete a task causing a situation of over-
load (Paivio, 1986; Baddeley, 1998). In relation to le-
arning, an optimal level of mental workload facilitates
the learning process, whereas a high level (overload)
or a low level (underload), hampers the learning phase
(Longo, 2016). Although a robust and generally ap-
plicable measure of MWL still has to emerge, a num-
ber of uni-dimensional and multi-dimensional measu-
res have been conceptualised, applied and validated.
Examples include the Nasa Task Load Index and the
Workload Profile (WP), well known multidimensio-
nal assessment techniques. Similarly to mental wor-
kload, objective performance of learners is hard to
quantify. Assessing their performance after a learning
activity is far from being easy. However, a number
of assessment strategies have been proposed. One of
these is based on conceptual maps, useful tools that
display a concept’s component visualising their rela-
tionships and organising the related thoughts. This
type of maps can be objective and meaningful asses-
sment tools to evaluate an instructional design in the
classroom. They are expected to be effective to iden-
tify both valid and invalid ideas grasped by learners
and they can provide quantitative information about
the performance achieved by a learner (Novak and
nas, 2008). Having quantitative measures of men-
tal workload and objective performance, through an
existing measure of efficiency, it is now possible to
answer the research question set above. The missing
element is the formation of a novel learning task that
combines the cognitivist and social constructivist ap-
proaches. The proposal of this position paper is to
make use of traditional explicit instructions methods
followed by a collaborative activity based upon trig-
ger questions. These questions are aimed to exercise
the cognitives abilities of a learner and to develop a
higher level of thinking (Lipman, 2003).
The reminder of this paper is organised as it fol-
lows. Section 2 discusses the theoretical background
of the research with an overview of cognitivist and
social constructivist approaches to teaching and lear-
ning discussing their limitations. The human mental
architecture, in the context of Cognitive Load The-
ory (CLT), is subsequently described emphasising its
drawbacks. A focus on human Mental Workload
(MWL), its measurement techniques and measures
follows. A description of conceptual maps and a mar-
king scheme for their objective evaluation is presen-
ted. Eventually, the origins of trigger questions and
their functioning is described. With these notions,
section 3 proposes the design of a noverl primary re-
search experiment while section 4 emphasises the ex-
pected contribution to the body of knowledge.
2.1 The Cognitivist Paradigm
The traditional cognitivist approach to teaching is fo-
cused on the transmission of information. It stresses
the acquisition of knowledge and considers the inter-
nal mental structure of humans. Its focus is on the
conceptualisation of learning processes. Cognitive
theories address how information is received, orga-
nised, stored and retrieved by the mind. ‘Learning is
concerned not so much with what learners do but with
what they know and how they come to acquire it’ (Jo-
nassen, 1991). The goal of Cognitivism is to use ap-
propriate learning strategies to relate new knowledge
to the prior knowledge. According to Schunk (1996),
‘Transfer is a function of how information is stored in
memory’. The emphasis is on the role of practice with
corrective feedback. Transfer occurs when a learner is
able to apply knowledge in different circumstances.
To support this, instructional designers usually adopt
two different techniques: simplification and standar-
disation. The transfer occurs when irrelevant informa-
tion is eliminated, when simplification and standar-
disation techniques facilitate the knowledge transfer
to achieve effectiveness and efficiency. During this
transfer phase, knowledge is analysed, decomposed,
and simplified into schemata. A schema synthesi-
ses the functions required to carry out a task (Mayer,
2.2 The Social Constructivist Paradigm
Vygotsky (1986), Dewey (2004), Lipman (2003) con-
sider learning strictly being related to the social con-
text. The individualistic ideal of autonomy to tea-
ching and learning is characterised by self-sufficiency
An Investigation of the Impact of a Social Constructivist Teaching Approach, based on Trigger Questions, Through Measures of Mental
Workload and Efficiency
and independence. From this point of view, depen-
dency, inter subjectivity, and community are seen
as opposed to autonomy and maturity. Thus, self-
sufficiency and independence are seen as virtuous,
while dependency and interconnectedness with others
are considered weaknesses (Bleazby, 2006). Under
this assumption, it is believed that the exacerbation
of the individualistic ideas of autonomy could create
competitive behaviours that could hamper instead of
facilitating the learning phase (Bleazby, 2006). So-
cial interaction is considered as a potential solution
for facilitating the learning phase and to fill in the
gap of different levels of prior knowledge of learners.
The Deweyian and Vigotskyian notion of auto-
nomy is incorporated and developed in the pedagogi-
cal approach proposed by Lipman (2003). ‘In order to
think for oneself, one must be a member of a commu-
nity’. In a community, the social interaction internali-
ses the functions and the processes of the interaction.
Therefore, the participants become intrapsychologi-
cal functions: the learners create, define and redefine
the meanings by themselves after having participated
in a dialog with the others (Vygotsky, 1986). This
notion is strictly connected to the notion of Commu-
nity of Inquiry proposed by Peirce (1877). Here, the
focus is on the formation of knowledge through a pro-
cess of scientific inquiry. The Community of Inquiry
can be defined as a group of people interacting in a
social context who investigate the conceptual limits
of a problematic concept through the use of dialog.
Here, ‘Dialog’ is not a conversation nor a discussion.
A conversation is a spontaneous exchange and sharing
of ideas and information. A discussion is a conversa-
tion where participants explain their own ideas trying
to persuade the others. It is a competitive dialectical
exchange of ideas that converges to the extrapolation
of the correct one, emphasising a winner. Instead a di-
alog focuses on group thinking, processing the infor-
mation in order to expand individual and group kno-
wledge and to extend understanding (Bleazby, 2006).
In line with the definition of dialog, a pedagogical
framework grounded in the ‘Philosophy for Children’
proposed by Mathew Lipman exists (the project NO-
atiro, 2006). It proposes a set of questions
aimed to exercise the cognitives abilities of a lear-
ner and to develop a higher level of thinking. Lip-
man (2003) presents a model of reasoning which is
considered to be a genuine and important aspect of
any instructive process: the complex thinking. It is
an educational process composed by three dimensi-
ons: critical, creative and caring thinking. The criti-
cal thinking is focused on the formulation of judge-
ments and it is governed by the criteria of logic, it is
self-correcting and sensitive to the context. The cre-
ative thinking tends towards the formulation of jud-
gements too but these are strictly related to the con-
text. Additionally, it is governed by the context, it
is self-transcendent and it is sensitive to criteria but
not governed by them. The caring thinking is aimed
at the development of practice regarding substantial
and procedural reflection related to the resolution of
some problem. It is sensitive to the context and it
requires metacognitive process of thinking to formu-
late and orient practical judgments. The development
of complex thinking occurs in the Community of In-
quiry, a process of discovery learning which is focu-
sed on generating and answering philosophical que-
stions on logic (critical thinking), aesthetic (creative
thinking) and ethic (caring thinking).
2.3 The Human Mental Architecture
and the Cognitive Load Theory
The human mental structure is believed to be compo-
sed by two parts: short and long term memory (At-
kinson and Shiffrin, 1968). The former memory pro-
cesses incoming information, while the latter stores
relevant information transforming it as acquired kno-
wledge (Baddeley, 1998; Miller, 1956). Under the as-
sumptions of the human mental architecture frame-
work, learning takes place by transferring pieces of
information from working memory, conscious and li-
mited, to long term memory, unconscious and unli-
mited (Atkinson and Shiffrin, 1968; Baddeley, 1998).
This assumption is at the core of the Cognitive load
theory (CLT) (Sweller et al., 1998). According to
CLT, in the learning phase, the transfer of informa-
tion occurs by generating schemata of knowledge.
Here, schemata are automatic functions created after
several application of some concept related to some
task (Sweller et al., 1998). The creation of schemata
reduces the working memory load because of their ca-
pacity to hold undefined amount of information. Ac-
cording to the Schema Theory, knowledge is stored in
long term memory in the form of schema. A schema
categorises elements of information according to the
manner in which they will be used (Sweller et al.,
1998). To construct a schema means to relate diffe-
rent kinds of information from a lower to a higher
level of complexity and hold them as a single unity
understandable as a single chunk of information. In
summary, the construction of schemata occurs in wor-
king memory while their permanent storage occurs in
long term memory. Cognitive Load Theory is aimed
at providing guidelines to design instructional mate-
rial to reduce the cognitive load of learners and at ex-
panding their working memory limits, facilitating the
transfer between short and long memory. The rese-
CSEDU 2018 - 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
arch conducted in the last 3 decades by Sweller and
his colleagues brought to the definition of three types
of load: intrinsic, extraneous and germane load. The
intrinsic load refers to numbers of elements that must
be processed simultaneously in working memory for
schema construction and their interactions (defined as
element interactivity). Extraneous load is the unne-
cessary cognitive load and it influences by the way in-
structional material has been designed. Germane load
is the effective cognitive load which is the result of be-
neficial cognitive processes such as abstractions and
elaboration (the construction of schemata) that are
promoted by a clear design of the instruction (Gerjets
and Scheiter, 2003). The three types of load were ini-
tially thought to be additive: the total cognitive load
experienced by a subject during a task correspond to
the sum of the three different types of load. Reducing
extraneous load and improving germane load by de-
veloping schema construction and automation should
be the main goal of the discipline of instructional de-
After several critiques related to the theoretical
development of CLT, as in Schnotz and K
(2007), Gerjets et al. (2009) and De Jong (2010) and
after several failed attempts to find a generally ap-
plicable measurement of the three different types of
load, CLT has been re-conceptualised using the no-
tion of element interactivity, as previously discussed.
If initially the degree of element Interactivity underli-
ned the intrinsic load, now it also underlies the extra-
neous load (Sweller, 2010). This re-conceptualisation
brought to a new definition of extraneous load itself
that now refers to the degree of interactivity of the
elements of instructional material used for teaching
activities. In other words, if an instructional design
enhances the degree of element interactivity during
problem solving, the load can be considered as extra-
neous. In contrast to the previous definition of extra-
neous load, which focused on hampering the schema
contribution and automation, now extraneous load is
defined as the degree of element interactivity as well
as the germane load. This is because, indirectly,
the degree of element interactivity underlies germane
load due to the fact that the latter refers to the wor-
king memory resources devoted to manage the inte-
raction of elements. Germane load is no longer an in-
dependent source of load. It is now a function of those
working memory resources that need to deal with the
interaction of the elements of the instructional mate-
rial being presented. Intrinsic load depends on the
characteristic of the material, while extraneous load
now depends on the characteristic of the instructional
material, on the characteristic of instructional design
and on the prior knowledge of the learners. Additio-
nally, germane load now refers only to the characteris-
tics of the learner: the resources of working memory
allocated to deal with the intrinsic load. According
to this reconceptualisation, the logical foundation of
CLT have become more stable, and germane load is
complementary to extraneous load without creating
logical and empirical contradictions.
In summary, to the best of our understanding, the
main theoretical contradiction before the reconceptu-
alisation of CLT was that germane and extraneous lo-
ads were additive Sweller et al. (1998) and at the same
time complementary. This means that, if extraneous
load decreases, while keeping the intrinsic load con-
stant, then germane load should increase. ‘However,
if germane load can compensate extraneous load, why
does total load change? It should remain constant but
does not’ (Sweller, 2010). After the reconceptualisa-
tion of CLT by Sweller (2010), if intrinsic load re-
mains constant but extraneous load changes, the total
cognitive load changes as well because more or less
working memory resources are devoted to deal with
the degree of element interactivity Sweller (2010).
Additionally, germane load is a function of working
memory dealing with the degree of element interacti-
vity. At a given level of knowledge and expertise,
intrinsic load cannot be altered without changing the
content of the material being learnt. Rather, extrane-
ous load can be altered by changing the instructional
procedures and germane load is a function of the re-
sources of the working memory dealing with the pro-
cessing of the interactions of instructional elements of
an underlying learning task. Germane load is no lon-
ger independent because it depends on the instructi-
onal design and the complexity of the underlying le-
arning task (Sweller, 2010). Despite the evolution of
the theory over the years, reliable measurement of the
three different types of load is still the main challenge
regarding the theoretical and the scientific value of
CLT (Paas et al., 2003).
2.4 Mental Workload
Although the field of educational psychology is st-
ruggling to find ways of measuring mental workload
of learning tasks, there is an entire field within Er-
gonomics devoted to the design, development and
validation of reliable measures of mental workload
(Longo and Leva, 2017). In the last 50 years of rese-
arch, different definitions of mental workload (MWL)
have emerged in the literature. According to Wickens
(1979) ’..., the concept of operator workload is de-
fined in terms of the human’s limited processing re-
sources’. His Multiple Resource Theory (MRT) sta-
tes that humans have a limited set of resources availa-
An Investigation of the Impact of a Social Constructivist Teaching Approach, based on Trigger Questions, Through Measures of Mental
Workload and Efficiency
ble for mental processes (Wickens, 1984). These re-
sources correspond to an available amount of energy
that is used for a variety of mental procedures. This
shared pool of resources are allocated across different
stages related to the tasks, their use depends on the
modalities of the task and on the process required to
carry out this task. Cognitive resources are restricted
and a supply and demand problem occurs when a per-
son performs two or more tasks that require the same
resource. Excess workload, caused by a task using
the same resource, can create problems and result in
errors or lower task performance. When workload
increases it does not mean that performance always
decreases: performance can be affected by workload
being too high or too low (Nachreiner, 1995). A high
level of mental workload can be related with a high
level of focus on the task whereas a low level might
means no attention or no mental resources allocated
to a task. Wicken’s definition implicitly means that
mental workload should be optimal to increase the
performance during tasks. In general, MWL is not
a linear concept (Longo, 2015; Rizzo et al., 2016) but
it can be intuitively defined as the volume of cognitive
work necessary for an individual to accomplish a task
over time. It is not ‘an elementary property, rather
it emerges from the interaction between the require-
ments of a task, the circumstances under which it is
performed and the skills, behaviours and perceptions
of the operator’ (Hart, 2006). However, this is only
a practical definition, as many other factors influence
mental workload (Longo and Barrett, 2010; Longo,
2.4.1 Mental Workload Measurement
Different techniques have been proposed in the
Eduction to measure mental workload (cognitive
load). This can be clustered, in two main groups:
subjective and objective measures (Plass et al., 2010).
The most commonly adopted subjective measures are
unidimensional. These are the Subjective Rating of
Perceived Mental Effort (Paas and Van Merri
1993) combined with Subjective Rating of Percei-
ved Task Difficulty (Paas and Van Merri
enboer, 1994;
Paas et al., 2003). Paas (1992) equals the effort of
learners to overall cognitive load, thus mental ef-
fort alone can measure the different types of load.
In Paas and Van Merri
enboer (1993), ‘Mental ef-
fort may be defined as the total amount of control-
led cognitive processing in which a subject is enga-
ged’. Through a measure of mental effort it is possi-
ble to get information about the cognitive costs of le-
arning, therefore predict the performance of learners.
Objective measurement of cognitive load through va-
rious means have been proposed, as summarised in
Plass et al. (2010). These means include learning
outcomes (Mayer, 2005; Mayer and Moreno, 1998),
time-on-task (Tabbers et al., 2004), task complexity
(Seufert et al., 2007), behavioural data (Van Gerven
et al., 2004), secondary task analysis (Br
unken et al.,
2002) and Eye-tracking analysis (Folker et al., 2005).
Both subjective and objective measures of cognitive
load have been combined in Paas et al. (2003). Here,
cognitive load is the relation between invested effort
and learning outcome. In summary, most of the mea-
surement techniques present in the literature of educa-
tion are mainly proxies to infer cognitive load. The si-
tuation is different in Ergonomics. Here, the measure-
ment of MWL is an extensive area (Longo and Leva,
2017) where several assessment techniques have been
proposed (Cain, 2007; Tsang, 2006; Wilson and Eg-
gemeier, 2006; Young and Stanton, 2004, 2006; Mou-
stafa et al., 2017): a) self-assessment measures; b)
task measures; c) physiological measures. The ca-
tegory of self-assessment measures is often referred
to as self-report measures. It relies on the subject
perceived experience of the interaction with an un-
derlying interactive system through the direct estima-
tion of individual differences such as the emotional
state, attitude and stress of the operator, the effort de-
voted to the task and its demands (De Waard, 1996;
Hart, 2006). It is strongly believed that only the indi-
vidual concerned with the task can provide an accu-
rate judgement with respect to the MWL experienced.
The class of task performance measures is based upon
the assumption that the mental workload of an ope-
rator, interacting with a system, gain relevance only
if it influences system performance. Primary and se-
condary task measures exist including reaction time
to a secondary task or number of errors on the pri-
mary task or completion time (Rubio et al., 2004a;
Tsang and Vidulich, 2006). The category of physio-
logical measures considers bodily responses derived
from the operator’s physiology (heart rate, pupil dila-
tion etc). These responses are believed to be correla-
ted to MWL and are aimed at interpreting psychologi-
cal processes by analysing their effect on the state of
the body. Their advantage is that they can be collected
continuously over time, without requiring an overt re-
sponse by the operator (O’ Donnel and Eggemeier,
1986) but they require specific equipment and trai-
ned operators mitigating their use in real-world tasks.
Self-assessment measures have always attracted many
practitioners and seem to be the right candidates for
adoption in education. The following section descri-
bes two of these as their are adopted in the experiment
of section 3.
CSEDU 2018 - 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
2.4.2 The NASA-TLX and the Workload Profile
Two well known multi-dimensional subjective mea-
sures are the NASA-task Load Index (NASA-TLX)
Hart and Staveland (1988) and the Workload Profile
(Tsang and Velazquez, 1996). In contrast to unidi-
mensional scales of mental load measurements such
as effort and task difficulty proposed in Paas and
Van Merri
enboer (1993, 1994) and Paas et al. (2003),
they focus on different components of load. In educa-
tion, these are not widely employed, but a few studies
have confirmed their validity and sensitivity (Gerjets
et al., 2006; Kester et al., 2006; Gerjets et al., 2004).
In general, the NASA-TLX has been used to pre-
dict critical levels of mental workload that can signi-
ficantly influence the execution of an underlying task.
The NASA-TLX consists of six sub scales that re-
present somewhat independent clusters of variables:
mental, physical, and temporal demands, frustration,
effort, and performance (Hart and Staveland, 1988).
To recollect ratings for these dimensions twenty grade
scales are utilised. A score from 0 to 100 (assigned to
the nearest point 5) is collected on each scale from re-
spondents. To connect the six individual scale ratings
into an average score, a weighting calculation is used.
This procedure requires a paired comparison task to
be performed prior to the workload assessments. Pai-
red comparisons demand the operator to select which
dimension is more pertinent to workload over all pairs
of the six dimensions. The number of times a dimen-
sion is chosen as more important, the weighting of
that dimension scale for a given task for that operator
is. A workload score from 0 to 100 is obtained for
each rated task by multiplying the weight by the indi-
vidual dimension scale score, summing across scales,
and dividing by 15 (the total number of paired com-
NASA : [0..100] NASA =
The Workload Profile (WP) is a subjective wor-
kload assessment technique, based on the Multiple
Resource Theory (MRT) of Wickens (1984). In
this technique, eight factors are considered: percep-
tual/central processing, response selection and exe-
cution, spatial processing, verbal processing, visual
processing, auditory processing, manual output and
speech output. The WP procedure requires the opera-
tors to furnish the proportion of attentional resources,
in the range 0 to 1, used during a task. The overall
workload rating is calculated summing each of the 8
scores (Tsang and Velazquez, 1996). Formally:
W P : [0..100] W P =
2.5 Conceptual Map for Assessment
Concept maps are graphical tools aimed at organising
and representing knowledge. The conceptual maps
are useful learning tools because they display a con-
cept’s component visualising their relationships and
organising the related thoughts. Conceptual maps fo-
cuses on the promotion of creativity, they improve
the effective externalisation and visualisation of ideas,
discovering new problem solving methods and mea-
suring concept understanding (Cristea and Okamoto,
2001). They are built upon concepts that are usu-
ally enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and
upon relationships between them, usually explicated
by a linking line connecting two concepts (Novak and
nas, 2008). On this connecting line, linking words
or linking phrases can be placed, aimed at specifying
the relation between concepts. A word, or multiple
words can be used to label a concept as well as one
or more symbols (for example: ‘+’ ‘/’ ‘=’). Proposi-
tions contain two or more concepts connected by lin-
king words or phrases to form a meaningful statement
(Novak and Ca
nas, 2008). The concepts are visuali-
sed in a hierarchical structure starting from the most
inclusive to the less. They are grounded on a key que-
stion related to some context and the links between
different sections and an area of the map are called
cross-link. The ability to draw a good hierarchical
structure and the ability to find and characterise new
cross-links promote the creative thinking phase.
Figure 1: Example of a concept map (Novak and Ca
The criteria for measuring conceptual understan-
ding is the reason why we are interested in Novak’s
conceptual maps. This type of maps are objective and
meaningful assessment tools to evaluate an instructi-
An Investigation of the Impact of a Social Constructivist Teaching Approach, based on Trigger Questions, Through Measures of Mental
Workload and Efficiency
onal design in the classroom. They are expected to be
effective to identify both valid and invalid ideas gras-
ped by learners and they can provide quantitative in-
formation about the student performance (Novak and
nas, 2008). A rubik for quantitatively assessing
a conceptual map has been proposed as per figure 2
Markham et al. (1994).
Figure 2: Rubik for concept maps (Markham et al., 1994).
A primary research study is envisioned. A number
of different topics will be delivered by a number of
selected lecturers using two teaching conditions:
a traditional cognitivist activity (section 2.1), in
which the instructor presents explicit information.
a social constructivist activity added to the first,
based upon trigger questions (section 2.2).
The experiment will involve students, of third-level
classes, divided in two groups: a control group, re-
ceiving condition 1, and an experimental group, re-
ceiving condition 2. The goal of the trigger ques-
tions (as defined in table 1) is to support the deve-
lopment of the cognitive skills of learners. The list
has been formed through a selection of the questions
originally proposed in S
atiro (2006) that can be also
applied in third-level contexts. After the completion
of each class, students will be provided with a copy
of the NASA-TLX or the Workload Profile question-
naires by a lecturer. Subsequently, an assessment of
the information received by the lecturer, based on the
use of conceptual maps, as described in section 2.5,
will be distributed to learners (table 2). The basic
idea of the graphic representation, through the use of
conceptual maps, corresponds to coordinate the cog-
nitive construction of schemata of knowledge with its
externalisation (van Bruggen et al., 2002). The pe-
dagogical goal is to improve the metacognitive skills
by asking questions aimed at monitoring and control-
ling the transfer (and the construction) of information
from working memory to long-term working memory
and retrieving the schemata from long-term memory
to working memory (Valcke, 2002). It is supposed
that, the externalisation of the internal cognitive sche-
mata of knowledge by sharing collaborative activities,
improves metacognitive thinking, facilitating the lear-
ning process. It is important to note that the schema-
tic performance test will be evaluated by the quan-
titative marking scheme developed by (Novak et al.,
1984) and extended by (Markham et al., 1994) (Fi-
gure 2). This scheme will generate a score of perfor-
mance in percentage. With an overall index of men-
tal workload and a performance score, the proposal is
to combine these two measures towards an index of
efficiency. This will serve as a metric for the empi-
rical evaluation of the two envisioned teaching con-
ditions. In details, efficiency will be computed em-
ploying the Relative Efficiency measure proposed in
Paas and Van Merri
enboer (1993) (equation 1), up-
dated with the overall score of mental workload as
measured by the NASA-TLX and WP – (figure 4).
Figure 3: Schematic representation of the envisioned pri-
mary research experiment.
E f f iciency =
|R P|
where P is the standardised performance score (in
percentage) and R is the standardised mental wor-
kload score. If R P < 0, then E is positive, and if
R P > 0, then E is negative.
Different contributions to the body of knowledge are
expected from this research. The first is the use
of the NASA Task Load Index (Hart and Staveland,
1988) and the Workload Profile (Tsang and Vela-
zquez, 1996) instruments as multidimensional sub-
jective measures of mental workload in third-level
educational contexts. This is in contrast to most of
CSEDU 2018 - 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Figure 4: Instructional efficiency graph, adapted from Paas
and Van Merri
enboer (1993) by incorporating an overall
measure of mental workload.
the studies in the literature that have employed uni-
dimensional mental workload subjective assessment
techniques. The second expected contribution is the
use of a social constructivist approach jointly with a
traditional cognitivist approach to teaching. The no-
velty of this social constructivist approach is the use
of trigger questions in a shared dialogue, this aimed
at increasing the metacognitive skills of learners and
support creative and critical thinking. This metacog-
nitive activity is supposed to facilitate the control of
information during the transfer and the construction
phase. The third contribution is the extension of the
relative measure of efficiency, proposed in Paas and
Van Merri
enboer (1993), with an overall measure of
mental workload instead to perceived effort.
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Table 1: Trigger questions for supporting the development
of cognitive skills - To be completed by instructor and to be
answered by learners.
Classifying and ordering
1 From the information that you have received, what
is the most important?
Conceptualising and defining
2 What does ... mean?
Giving examples
3 Could you provide some examples of ... ?
Comparing and contrasting
4 Could you explain the differences and the similari-
ties between ... and ...?
Generating hypotheses
5 Which explanations could we provide to state that
... ?
Finding alternatives
5 Are there some different way to state that ... ?
Giving reasons
7 Why do you think that....?
Connecting causes and effects
8 What is the cause of.... and its effects?
Table 2: The NASA Task Load Index.
# Question
How much mental and perceptual activity was re-
quired (e.g. thinking, deciding, calculating, re-
membering, looking, searching, etc.)? Was the
task easy or demanding, simple or complex, ex-
acting or forgiving?
How much physical activity was required (e.g.
pushing, pulling, turning, controlling, activating,
etc.)? Was the task easy or demanding, slow or
brisk, slack or strenuous, restful or laborious?
How much time pressure did you feel due to the
rate or pace at which the tasks or task elements
occurred? Was the pace slow and leisurely or ra-
pid and frantic?
How hard did you have to work (mentally & phy-
sically) to accomplish your level of performance?
How successful do you think you were in accom-
plishing the goals, of the task set by the lecturer?
How satisfied were you with your performance in
accomplishing these goals?
How insecure, discouraged, irritated, stressed and
annoyed versus secure, gratified, content, relaxed
and complacent did you feel during the task?
An Investigation of the Impact of a Social Constructivist Teaching Approach, based on Trigger Questions, Through Measures of Mental
Workload and Efficiency
Table 3: Workload Profile.
# Question
How much attention was required for activities
like remembering, problem-solving, decision-
making, perceiving (detecting, recognising, iden-
tifying objects)?
How much attention was required for selecting
the proper response channel (manual - keybo-
ard/mouse, or speech/voice) and its execution?
How much attention was required for spatial pro-
cessing (spatially pay attention around)?
How much attention was required for verbal ma-
terial (eg. reading, processing linguistic material,
listening to verbal conversations)?
How much attention was required for executing
the task based on the information visually recei-
ved (eyes)?
How much attention was required for executing
the task based on the information auditory recei-
How much attention was required for manually
respond to the task (eg. keyboard/mouse)?
How much attention was required for producing
the speech response (eg. engaging in a conversa-
tion, talking, answering questions)?
CSEDU 2018 - 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Education