The use of scaffolds to help improve students’ success on persuasive term papers in an online course.
Abstract: This study is guided by constructivism where the central tenant is learners gain new information through experiencing and attaching new material to prior knowledge. Closely related to this is Lev Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” that posits learners either need no help to acquire the material or beyond the students’ capability even with assistance. That assistance is scaffolding that can be soft (provided one-on-one to the individual) or hard (diagrams, models, hints). This study focused on the effect of optional hard scaffolds used by students for persuasive paper writing. Scaffolds were created from Graff & Birkenstein (2014) for use in a fully online general education course. For a ten-page persuasive paper assigned in four steps, after the topic and concept maps were approved by the instructor, students were provided an optional sentence starter scaffold for use in drafting their paper. Students self-reported use of scaffolds used for the persuasive paper – one option was the scaffold sentence starters. The papers were also filtered for use of the sentence starters. Results indicated that only 12% of the participants (N=116) admitted to using the scaffold, while filters found evidence of sentence starters in 23% of the papers. The ANOVA of grades on the final paper was statistically significant at p = .948543. The population of students using the scaffold earned scores significantly different than those who did not use the scaffold.