The role of error factors in teaching

Pickthorne, Brian (1979). The role of error factors in teaching. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis describes a wide-ranging enquiry into the nature, identification and treatment of pupil error. It takes, as its main point of departure, the work of Harlow on the role of 'error factors' in learning and it was undertaken in the belief that educators could considerably enhance the effectiveness of their teaching by making more insightful appraisals of the learning obstacles, (or error factors) of their pupils. Harlow first introduced the concept of error factors following his research into 'learning set' formation. Lewis and Pask subsequently incorporated Harlow's ideas in their own work, 'and laid particular stress on the significance of error factors which give rise to whole classes of errors.

The concept of error factors and the role of error factors in teaching, is examined in this thesis in both psychological and philosophical terms, because the two approaches are mutually illuminating. Despite scant literature in this sphere the entire topic is opened up to systematic examination. Hypotheses are presented concerning the role and nature of error factors, and novel strategies are proposed for treating them. A special diagnostic framework for error factors has been formulated, an. 1 its effectiveness investigated in a series of Case Studies and pilot experiments, culminating in a major experimental investigation concerning the overall role of error factors in teaching. Strategies for error factor prediction and prevention are presented and examined, including the use of algorithms. Major consideration is given to the exploitation of error factors as powerful tools to enhance learning. There is a detailed theoretical discussion at each stage, so that the full significance of the findings can be assessed. Inferences concerning the role of error factors in teaching are examined in conjunction with methodological and other implications arising from the experimental findings. A number of weaknesses of current teaching strategies are identified, and the thesis concludes with various speculations (e. g. to do with the use of computer assisted instruction in this context) which have been prompted by this investigation.

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