To draw or not to draw? Examining the necessity of problem diagrams using massive open online course experiments

Zhongzhou Chen, Neset Demirci, Youn Jeng Choi, David E. Pritchard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Previous research on problem diagrams suggested that including a supportive diagram, one that does not provide necessary problem solving information, may bring little, or even negative, benefit to students' problem solving success. We tested the usefulness of problem diagrams on 12 different physics problems (6A/B experiments) in our massive open online course. By analyzing over 8000 student responses in total, we found that including a problem diagram that contains no significant additional information only slightly improves the first attempt correct rate for the few most spatially complex problems, and has little impact on either the final correct percentage or the time spent on solving the problem. On the other hand, in half of the cases, removing the diagram significantly increased the fraction of students' drawing their own diagrams during problem solving. The increase in drawing behavior is largely independent of students' physics abilities. In summary, our results suggest that for many physics problems, the benefit of a diagram is exceedingly small and may not justify the effort of creating one.

Original languageEnglish
Article number010110
JournalPhysical Review Physics Education Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 17 Feb 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 authors. Published by the American Physical Society. Published by the American Physical Society under the terms of the "" Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article's title, journal citation, and DOI.


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