Strategies For Successful Learning With Geographical .

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educationsciencesArticleStrategies for Successful Learning with GeographicalComics: An Eye-Tracking Study with Young LearnersFrederik von Reumont *and Alexandra BudkeDepartment Didactics of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Institute of Geography Education,University of Cologne, Gronewaldstr. 2, 50931 Cologne, Germany; [email protected]* Correspondence: [email protected]: 11 September 2020; Accepted: 12 October 2020; Published: 21 October 2020 Abstract: Many studies report that comics are useful as learning material. However, there islittle known about how learning with comics works. Based on previously established theoriesabout multimedia learning, we conducted an eye-tracking experiment to examine learning aboutgeography with a specially designed combination of comic and map which we call geo-comic. In ourexperiment, we show that our geo-comic fulfills many prerequisites for promoting deep learning.Thus, we establish guidelines for an effective design of geo-comics and recommend deploying comicsin combination with maps in geography classes.Keywords: geography education; comics; eye-tracking; text–picture combination; multimedialearning; multiple perspectives1. IntroductionComics have recently been discovered to be effective tools in science communication. However,empirical research in this field remains scarce [1], which is especially true of comics with geographicalcontent. In theory, there are many arguments for the use of comics in the classroom. Sousanis (2015),for example, points out that comics, through their unique combination of text and imagery, can offermore perspectives than one medium alone and thus promote a deeper understanding of the content.Using visual symbols, metaphors, and realistic depictions in combination with textual modes ofexpression, comics create a “symphony” [2] (p. 65). With this symphony, we can learn about theworld, but how exactly does learning work with such a medium? Many theories describe learningwith text–picture combinations (e.g., [3–5]). However, we do not know whether the results of thesestudies apply specifically to comics; neither do we know whether they work in geographical contexts.The question remains: how can we learn about geography with comics? In this study, we wanted to findout the extent to which strategies of viewing geographical comics influence the comprehension of thecomics’ content. What kinds of strategies exist? How do viewing strategies relate to the comprehensionof content?We conducted an eye-tracking experiment using a geography comic specially designed for thisstudy. The direct observation of eye movement gives us unique insights into thought processes andcognitive information processing in learners. By moving our eyes, we can “focus our concentration( . . . ) on the object or region of interest” [6] (p. 3). Thus, by observing someone’s eye movements, we canlearn something about “what the observer found interesting” (ibid.). In other words, “eye movementsprovide evidence of overt visual attention” (ibid. p. 5). They enable us to measure attention andreproduce, track, and comprehend actions that are key to the intake of visual information. We canquantify otherwise inaccessible processes that have a close relationship to the forming of representativemodels in our mind, and we can do this on an individual level. Concerning research on instructionalEduc. Sci. 2020, 10, 293; ucation

Educ. Sci. 2020, 10, 2932 of 27methods in multimedia learning, we can “go beyond asking simply ‘what works?’ or ‘when does itwork?’” We can now “determine how a particular instructional method causes learning” [7] (p. 167).In the following, we will derive hypotheses from existing theory which we want to testusing a specially designed comic. The methods which we used are detailed in the next section.Subsequently, we present and discuss the relevant results of the eye-tracking experiment in the light ofgeography education.2. TheoryNumerous studies have shown that learning with comics influences cognitive performance in apositive way. Aleixo and Sumner [8] report, in a study of learning about biopsychology with comics,that students learning with comics had significantly higher memory scores than those who did notlearn with comics. Nalu and Bliss [9] found that learning with comics supports the speed of learning.Comparing two groups of young naval officers in training, those who learned with comics weretwice as fast as those who learned with text-only material, while both groups achieved comparabletest results. In medical training, several studies show that students learning with comics achievehigher degrees of knowledge accompanied with a higher motivation to learn than those learningwithout comics [10]. In a study of lessons teaching about burn injuries, Sinha et al. show that therewere significant improvements in the test results of five to seven year olds when they learned withcomics as compared to traditional classroom material. This study was conducted at the same timein India and the US. Özdemir [11], too, identifies a significant improvement in the test scores ofyoung learners (sixth graders) who learned with comics compared to those who did not learn withcomics. He also states that those students with low interest in the topic, in particular, could be bettermotivated to learn and were more accepting of the learning material than those who did not usecomics. Even the software company Oracle recommends learning with comics, based on a study of theeffectiveness of learning materials [12]. Hosler and Boomer [13] observed a significant improvementin comprehension among students using science comics as learning materials in biology classes atuniversity level compared to those in classes where comics were not used. Brand et al. [14] alsoobserved better comprehension in a study using comics for informing patients about the nature oftheir ailments. Additionally, they reported lower anxiety levels and greater satisfaction in the patientswho were informed with comics. A meta-analysis of studies conducted in Japan shows two importantadvantages to learning with comics [15]: they seem to be easy to understand and, for many (Japanese)students, are an attractive medium for taking in information.It seems that learning with comics can improve learning outcomes across many settings, age groups,and cultures by supporting the learning process. However, little is known about how this works,and we know even less about how this might work in geography education. We will use theories frommultimedia learning or comics studies to hypothesize about learning with comics in a geographicalcontext. To our knowledge, no investigation has been conducted on reading processes in comics in ageographical context, e.g., when a map is present in the comic in addition to the typical text–imagecombination. Geography is a visual discipline (e.g., [16,17]). It is common to use word–picturecombinations such as diagrams, block diagrams, ground profiles, and, arguably most importantly,maps to communicate geographical content. These communication devices are essential to thegeographical discourse and cannot be left out of any learning material. This means that they alsoshould be incorporated into comics designed for learning geography. Thus, we define geo-comicsas comics about geographical topics that include specifically geographical communication devices.Comics fuse text and imagery in an agent-based narration. The imagery part of the comic can very wellinclude geographical visualizations such as maps. In our study, we test this kind of geographicallyenhanced science comic in order to find out the extent to which strategies of viewing geo-comicsinfluence the reader’s comprehension of the comics’ content.By testing our hypotheses on a comic with geographical content, our investigations shed lighton how existing theories apply to geo-comics, how viewing strategies influence comprehension of

Educ. Sci. 2020, 10, 2933 of 27geographical content, and how we can support these strategies in weaker learners as well whendesigning new geo-comics.2.1. Integrated Processing of Text and Picture Improves LearningIn the following, we will discuss insights from multimedia studies and comic research that seemto be most suitable for a transfer to geography comics. We will then propose hypotheses to be testedon a geography comic to gain deeper insights into what successful learning strategies with geo-comicsmight be.According to Mayer [15], the combination of text and image can help learners to better understandthe content of learning material than a single medium alone. However, this is only the case ifboth text and image are in close proximity to each other, which clearly is the case in comics. If thedistance between them gets too large, the cognitive capacities of the viewer are used for searchingfor the connected elements. Then, the workload for the mind becomes too large to positively affectlearning [5,16]. Integrated processing of text and image is revealed by the transitions between the twomedia. The better the readers integrate the modalities of text and image, the better is their ability torecall the content from memory [18]. This integration is supported by placing labels on the pictures [19].Inevitably, this is done in comics with the use of speech bubbles, which anchor information to specificelements of the image. Both Kirtley et al. [20] and Laubrock et al. [21] (p. 257) argue that duringcomic reading, “text and image are processed in parallel.” However, eye-tracking experiments haveshown that it usually takes more time to retrieve the same amount of information from text than fromimage [21]. As Kirtley et al. [20] (p. 278) confirm, “more information can be taken in peripherally”while viewing images as compared to text. Loschky et al. [22] describe how viewers extract the relevantinformation from an image within the time span of only two fixations, moving from the gist of thepicture to a salient detail. This is not possible with text, where we have to identify single charactersand words. An integrated viewing process in comics concerns not only text and image but also puttingdifferent images into context with each other. Comics use panels as segmenting units that are arrangedon the page, each displaying a certain slice of time. However, the interplay between the segments, aswell as the arrangement of the segments on display as a whole, carry different kinds of meanings andcomplement each other in the learning process [2]. According to Sousanis (ibid.), comics convey adeeper understanding of content in this way, offering different perspectives and modes of expression.Based on this theoretical context, we are able to describe potentially successful viewing strategiesfor comics with geographical content. First of all, if text–image combinations promote deep learning,the presence of pictures must make a difference. Following Mason et al. [18], it is a prerequisite foreffective learning with text–image combinations that the viewers are able to integrate the differentkinds of media in their minds. This means that they have to come back to text or picture at least onceso they can reevaluate the information from one medium in light of the information found in the othermedium. In order to process text–image combinations, viewers have to switch back and forth fromtext to image in order to connect them in their minds.Thus, we hypothesize that:Hypothesis 1 (H1). Learners have a better understanding of the geographical content when a picture is present.Hypothesis 2 (H2). Learners show better comprehension of geographical content when more frequentlyswitching between media (text, image, map).2.2. Character-Driven Narrative Supports Learning in Text–Image CombinationsThe embodiment principle recognizes the fact that there is deeper learning whenever human orhuman-like agents are present in the learning material [23]. Our innate capacity for empathy triggersemotional involvement with these presences, which in turn leads to a more involved way of processingcontent. Learners engage intensely in active cognitive processing when they “try to make sense of what

Educ. Sci. 2020, 10, 2934 of 27the speaker is saying” [23] (p. 346). This heightens interest and supports willingness to learn moreabout the content. This effect is induced by a feeling of social presence even from fictional characters.When such a social presence is felt, “the learner works harder to select, organize, and integrate incominginformation” (ibid). The result is better performance in problem solving transfer tasks. Research fromdifferent fields supports the embodiment theory. According to Nakazawa [15], for example, who hasexamined learning with Japanese comics, emotional storytelling and (visual) representations supportthe learning process. Using eye-tracking methodology, Kirtley et al. [20] found that important factorsdriving the reading process in comics seem to be text and the presence of images of persons: when acharacter was present in a panel, more time was spent on it. Laubrock et al. [21] (p. 262) also foundthat images of characters “receive more attention than the rest of the panel.” Panels without text andwithout characters were more frequently skipped by the readers. Thus, Kirtley et al. [20] (p. 279)speculate that “verbal text paired with a character may be particularly informative.”If it is true that an engaging story featuring relatable characters helps learners to understandfacts, then paying attention to the characters driving the story should be a good strategy for taking ininformation in geo-comics as well.Hypothesis 3 (H3). Paying more attention to images of the characters driving the story results in a deeperunderstanding of the comic’s geographical content.2.3. Sequence of Perception Influences Cognitive PerformanceIn learning with text–image combinations, the order in which the learner perceives the differenttypes of media seems to play a major role. Rothkegel et al. [24] describe the significant effect of the firstfixation on the following scanpath over an image depending on its initial position. Where we look firstin a given display strongly determines where we will look next. This influences the whole chain of howwe move our eyes around the display. Eitel et al. [5] have discussed how students can explain spatiallayouts of objects much better if they are exposed to a picture representing that layout before they read atext about it. Even when the pictures were shown only for a very short amount of time, test results weresignificantly better when the students were handed the text afterwards instead of before the showingof the picture. Although, in a subsequent article, Eitel et al. [5] relativize these findings somewhat,they still confirm that there is a significant effect of the sequence in which learners perceive text andpicture. They suggest that the first helps to guide the student through the second. In several studiesexamining the process of reading comics, researchers found that text is a major factor determining howmuch time readers spend on a panel and influencing the order of panel viewing. Text was also foundto be a predominant entry point for panel views [20]. However, Laubrock et al. [21] (p. 257) somewhatcontradict this claim. They observed that the image part of a panel was visited first, but “only for ashort amount of time”.In informational material with geographical content, maps are usually used to tie together andcontextualize key aspects by revealing their spatial and other relations in a common terrain. The mapshould thus be the guiding medium in many geographical contexts. A thorough understanding of thecomic’s geographical content is expected to be more likely when the map is viewed before anythingelse, so that viewers are aware of the big picture before delving into more detailed contemplations.Hypothesis 4 (H4). Using the map as an entry point positively influences geographical understanding ofthe comic.3. Method3.1. The SampleWe presented a comic with geographical content to 36 German speaking students aged 10–14 years.We were especially interested in examining the strategies of learning with comics in young learners,

Educ. Sci. 2020, 10, 2935 of 27because there is a great lack of knowledge about this particular age group. Most research is donewith university students, for practical reasons. However, their perception and usage of mediamight differ considerably from that of younger learners for reasons of child development and mediasocialization. It was a major challenge to find participants in this age range willing to participate in thetime-consuming eye-tracking experiment. The problem was even more complicated by the fact that wecould not conduct several runs of the experiments in parallel, because we only had one eye-trackingdevice at our disposal. Our pool of participants was comprised of two different groups. One was aneighth grade of a German “Realschule”, a type of school that leads its students to vocational trainingafter the completion of the tenth grade. The other one was a group of participants in a summer sciencecamp for fifth to sixth graders at the end of their terms, which took place at the University of Cologne.This resulted in our group of participants attending fifth to eighth grade in various kinds of Germanschools, which revealed a probable influence of school type on comic viewing strategies. The age rangeof five years allows us to consider whether age has an effect on comic viewing strategies.In a preceding survey, we assessed the students’ comic affinity and expertise using a visuallanguage fluency index, namely Cohn’s VLFI [25], in order to consider the effects of comic expertise onlearning outcomes. While it is generally hard to assess a person’s comic expertise, this index is widelyused in comics research (e.g., [21]) and was found to produce satisfying results. We had to adaptthe wording of the questionnaire in minor ways due to the young age of the participants and added“watching Youtube videos” to the list of preferred activities. This did not influence the calculationof the VLFI, however. According to this test, which is based on self-evaluation, the group (n 33)scored rather low fluency in visual language, with an average of 8.83 points (SD 5.26). Cohn [25]classifies a score under nine points as comparably low fluency in visual language. Of all participants,60.6% scored in the class of low visual language fluency. Only one participant achieved a high score of25 points, high being defined as more than 22 points. The great distance of 9 points between this scoreand the next lower score of 16 points made this rather exceptional. However, since the index relies onself-assessment, we cannot treat this as an outlier with certainty. It might very well be true that thisone person has higher expertise than all the others. The relatively high standard deviation probablyreflects the group’s heterogeneous interest in comics. While some students are fans of the medium andregularly consume manga or other comics and even draw fan art themselves, others do not show aparticular interest in comics or they even dislike them.3.2. The Research InstrumentsWhile viewing the comic, the participants’ eye movement was captured using a SMI RED250mobile eye-tracking device. It records the eye movement at 250 Hz with a spatial resolution (RMS)of 0.03 (human) and a gaze position accuracy of 0.4 . Prior to viewing the comic, we calibratedthe eye-tracking device to each participant using five focal points. The participants had to fixate onthe points in the order in which they were shown on the screen. We repeated this procedure untilresults were satisfactory, but not more than twice. To ensure validity, we kept all datasets showinga horizontal or vertical deviation of equal to or less than 1 . Two datasets

Comics fuse text and imagery in an agent-based narration. The imagery part of the comic can very well include geographical visualizations such as maps. In our study, we test this kind of geographically enhanced science comic in order to find out the extent to which strategies of viewing geo-comics

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