PhD student Robert Danielson publishes article in Learning and Instruction

Research shows how images aid learning and memory

By Matthew C. Stevens

A picture is worth improved learning outcomes.

That is, as long as it’s the right kind of picture. Just ask PhD student Robert Danielson.

Danielson is co-author of “Metaphorical Graphics Aid Learning and Memory.” The article, co-authored by Neil Schwartz (from the California State University at Chico) and Marie Lippmann (from the Dresden University of Technology), appears in volume 39 of Learning and Instruction.

“Robert is an exceptional writer, with particular strengths in statistics, research and methodology. He also gives wonderful conference presentations.”

—Professor Gale Sinatra

The research was part of Danielson’s master’s thesis conducted at California State University, Chico (2012). In the study, he and his co-authors contrasted two experiments with student readers, one in a traditional psychology “lab research” environment, where reading times were predetermined, and the other in a more natural setting, where students were more comfortable and could take as much time as they needed.

Robert Danielson

Robert Danielson

“Textbook content and web-based articles are almost always accompanied by some type of image,” says Danielson, “but often these images are irrelevant, and research suggests that these images are not helping learners to learn. This begs the question of why these images persist. We suggest that images can in fact help learners if they can serve as a bridge between a learner’s prior knowledge and the information in the text.”

Danielson has continued to build on this research throughout his studies in the PhD program, including an exploration of how readers understand the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph depicting the rise of the earth’s CO2 levels over time. In another study, he is looking at how graphs can help learners overcome misconceptions about seasonal change. And as part of Speedometry, Rossier’s STEM curriculum created in partnership with Mattel Children’s Foundation, Danielson and other researchers are looking at how children create graphs as a way to assess their own learning.

Danielson was honored in April at the 2015 meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), named the inaugural winner of the Richard C. Anderson Graduate Student Research Award, presented by the founder of the National Consortium of Instruction and Cognition (NCIC), Richard Anderson himself. (Anderson is also a past president of AERA.)

In 2014, he was awarded a prestigious 2014 Graduate Scholar designation by the International Conference on Climate Change, which took place in Reykjavik, Iceland. Danielson is among a handful of international scholars so designated.

“With Gale Sinatra’s mentorship and the support of Rossier,” says Danielson of his adviser, “I have been fortunate to present my work all over the world, allowing me to engage with and collaborate with scholars from Germany, Italy, Canada and France—as well as from all over the United States.”

In preparing the recently published manuscript, Danielson was able to present parts of it at the 2014 AERA conference in San Francisco, where he received feedback from international scholars in attendance.

“Robert is an exceptional writer,” says Sinatra, professor of education and psychology, “with particular strengths in statistics, research and methodology. He also gives wonderful conference presentations.”

When she accompanied Danielson to a conference last summer, the organizer approached Sinatra at the conclusion of Danielson’s presentation.

“Now that’s how a graduate student is supposed to present a paper,” she told Sinatra.