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Approaching the why - Karen Sobel
Approaching the “Why”: Exploring Students’ Processes of
Reasoning Using the Actor-Oriented Transfer Perspective
Karen Sobel/April 2019/Nottingham, UK
What can we learn about students’ information literacy (IL) processes using AOT?
AOT: the basics
What is AOT?
How is AOT already being used?
AOT-based research methodologies
How is AOT different from other views of transfer of learning?
My AOT-based projects & future work
Applying AOT to information literacy instruction
Activity: Creating an AOT-based tool
Learning about students’ IL processes using AOT
What can we learn?
Students’ processes of using IL (observed or self-reported)
Why students decided to follow these processes, given the range of
approaches of which they are aware (self-reported)
My original question from “the field”:
“Why do some students continue to use & build
upon IL skills after they have initially developed
them, while others allow the skills to atrophy?”
What inspired this work?
Two points in AOT’s favor
• AOT supports teachers/librarian/researchers in considering
student performance from the student or “novice” perspective.*
• AOT encourages teachers/librarians/researchers to look at
students’ authentic performances as inspiration for modification
*Bransford, Brown, & Cocking discuss expert vs. novice perspectives in How People Learn, pp.
What is AOT?
A framework for examining
students’ complex academic
decision-making processes in
situations where they could have
used one of several techniques. It
examines what they did & why.
Developed by Dr. Joanne Lobato
(San Diego State University) for
use in P-12 STEM classrooms.
Let’s talk about what
AOT looks like in
• Research methodologies employed
• Aspects of learning they explore
• Terminology that helps understand
Data-gathering strategies used in many
One-on-one interviews with students (narrating their technique & reasoning)
Students are either randomly selected or selected to represent different approaches.
Students may be interviewed once or several times.
Videotaped group problem-solving in the classroom
Problem-solving is typically conducted without teacher assistance.
Teaching tools (“focusing phenomena”)
Most AOT-based studies incorporate two or all three of these data-gathering strategies.
Most studies last a few months.
AOT terminology: focusing phenomena*
All the tools and teaching strategies a teacher uses to help students what to focus on
when doing a certain type of work. Examples:
• Lesson plans
• PowerPoint slides
• Group discussions
• Course readings
Typically collected along with student work.
*See Lobato 2003 for discussion of focusing phenomena.
AOT terminology: discernment of differences*
Students understand a concept most clearly by comparing it to other concepts.
*See Lobato 2006 and Marton for discussion of discernment of differences.
AOT terminology: social framing*
Social framing situates conversations about a topic/concept. It
has two parts:
• Students connect what they are learning with situations in
which the learning is used.
• Asking students where they fit in the conversation.
• What does this remind you of?
*See Lobato 2006 for commentary on social framing.
AOT terminology: personal salience*
Personal salience asks what makes a concept feel relevant to a particular individual.
In other words: “What makes it stick?”
In practice, this term asks which connections they make & why.
This is key in my research: What makes critical thinking and information literacy feel
relevant to the greatest proportion of students?
*See Lobato, 2006 for more discussion.
Moving past two-
*Jean Lave critiques two-problem transfer situations.
Many traditional studies
use “two-problem transfer
AOT asks students to
freely apply any
techniques they have
learned to a problem.
How does AOT differ from traditional ideas of transfer
Differences between traditional perspectives
on transfer and AOT*
Traditional perspectives on transfer
1. Success is based on “expert” performance.
2. Learning is detached from real-world applications.
3. Researchers separate students’ performance from
4. Performance is often measured by individual student
testing, without the aid of collaborators or
5. Researchers tend not to comment on the
environment in which students are being tested.
1. Success is based on “novice” performance & is open to
many definitions of success.
2. Learning is based on real-world applications whenever
3. Researchers examine students’ performance and
4. Performance is measured both individually and in groups,
often with information sources available.
5. Researchers acknowledge that the environment in which
students are being tested can support or interfere with
*Summarized in (Lobato 2006, pp. 434-5).
What else is missing
research on transfer?
• Graduated prompting—What
can students accomplish when
we support them, but expect
more independence over
• Zone of Proximal
students accomplish with
does student performance
improve when they practice
skills over successive
*Bransford, Brown, & Cocking
**Vygotskii and Kozulin
What I’m working on: Short AOT assessments
Tell me about one source that you selected for your assignment.
How did you find it?
Why did you select it?
How will you use it in your assignment?
Is there anything else that you’d like to ask or tell me?
What I’m working on: Longer mixed-methods
Writing sample from a second-semester course of your choice
Use the AAC&U VALUE Rubric to assess critical thinking and information literacy.
Survey examining self-cited motivating factors related to:
Ultimately, what motivates all students to continue using critical thinking and
information literacy throughout their first year as undergraduates? What motivates the
highest performers in terms of critical thinking and information literacy?
• Examining group
• Examining “deep
people think about a
kind of problem once
they have a lot of
interest***Chi and Van Lehn discuss deep structure.
**Hidi discusses how personal interest in a topic affects
students’ level of attention.
Creating your own AOT-based process*
1. Let yourself think freely about what you want to find out.
2. Match what you want to learn to a process or instrument.
• Nature of the phenomena you’re studying
• Constraints of time
• Number of students you want to focus on
• Have you identified probable causes or specific types of performance to study?
3. Come up with questions that focus on reasoning rather than performance.
4. Remember to incorporate what you learn into your future teaching.
5. Any chance to gain insights into student reasoning is valuable! It’s not just about
Let’s try it right now!
1. Think of an aspect of your
students’ reasoning that you’d
like to explore.
2. Sketch out a methodology.
Would you prefer interviews?
Short, written questionnaires?
3. Come up with a “protocol” –
instructions or questions that
you’d ask the students.
Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., Cocking, R. R. (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C:
National Academy Press.
Chi, M. T. H., & VanLehn, K. A. (2012). Seeing deep structure from the interactions of surface features. Educational
Psychologist, 47(3), 177–188. https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2012.695709
Hidi, S. (2006). Interest: A unique motivational variable. Educational Research Review, 1(2), 69–82.
Lobato, J. (2003). How design experiments can inform a rethinking of transfer and vice versa. Educational Researcher, 32(1),
Lobato, J. (2006). Alternative perspectives on the transfer of learning: History, issues, and challenges for future research. The
Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 431–449.
Lobato, J. (2012). The actor-oriented transfer perspective and its contributions to educational research and practice.
Educational Psychologist, 47(3), 232–247.
Marton, F. (2015). Necessary conditions of learning. New York: Routledge.
Sobel, K. “The Actor-Oriented Transfer Perspective in Information Literacy Instruction.” Journal of Academic Librarianship
44.5(2018): 627-632. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2018.07.008
Vygotskiĭ, L. S., & Kozulin, A. (1986). Thought and language (Translation newly rev. and edited). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.