Concept mapping as an assessment of cognitive load and mental effort in complex problem solving in chemistry

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


This research is an exploratory, descriptive study of students' cognitive load and mental effort related to complex problem solving in high school chemistry. From a cognitive point of view, the complexity associated with problem solving in chemistry can be understood from the context of cognitive load theory (CLT). The objective of this descriptive research using five high school student case studies is to understand the cognitive load phenomena students encounter while learning subject matter that requires complex problem solving, specifically chemical equilibrium. This study employed a mixed methods multiple case study design, in which each participating student (n = 5) is conceptualized as a case. Each student case self-reported their mental effort on eight chemical equilibrium problems. The mean for each students' mental effort and problem solving was reported. Each student completed an equilibrium concept map which was scored. The concept map scores are reported. The analysis compared mental effort score, quiz score and concept map score. There was an inverse relationship between mental effort and concept map score. The more complex the concept map (higher score) the less mental effort students report using to solve the problems. There was a positive relationship between mental effort score and quiz score; and a negative relationship between concept map score and quiz score. We believe these correlations indicate that the variables are related to cognitive load. Methodologically, we found that concept mapping is a valid assessment of cognitive load and mental effort. We believe that further larger studies are needed to substantiate these findings and explain how concept mapping can be used as a representation of cognitive load and student learning.




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