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Where are strategies directed during multiple text use?

In addition to considering what strategies students deploy during multiple text use, there is a need to consider where, or toward what referent, such strategies are directed. The need to consider the where or referent of students’ strategy use is, in part, suggested by the CSF, which explicitly asks that strategy functions be understood as intra-textual, inter-textual, or personally directed in nature. Nevertheless, these represent only general referents, with many more specific referents needing to be considered to understand what features students attend to when strategically using multiple texts.

Two primary referents have been considered in prior work. The first has been students’ attendance to document information or source features during text use. For instance, Gerjets, Kammerer, and Werner (2011) used eye-tracking and think-aloud data to examine learners’ attendance to specific areas of search results produced on a search engine results page. They found that instructing students to engage in source evaluation increased attendance to document information (e.g., publisher) and user ratings in search results, as compared to a control condition. Examining students’ attendance to sources in texts, Braasch et al. (2012) focused on students’ gaze patterns and think-aloud utterances in reference either to source information (e.g., an art critic) or to text content. They found that the presentation of conflicting information across texts stimulated attendance to source information but not to content, as compared to the introduction of consistent information.

Examining texts more holistically, Kammerer and Gerjets (2012) considered differences in students’ selection of objective (i.e., fact based), subjective (i.e., opinion based), or commercial (i.e., promotional) websites during Internet searches. Likewise, Wiley et al. (2009) found that students learning disproportionately much or little from a multiple text task were distinguishable according to their time allocation, navigation, rereading, and rankings of reliable vis-à-vis unreliable websites.

In addition to directing strategies at source information, some studies have distinguished students’ strategy use when directed toward relevant vis-à-vis irrelevant information, with relevance defined as pertinence to task assignment (Cerdân & Vidal-Abarca, 2008; Rouet, Ros, Goumi, Macedo-Rouet, & Dinet, 2011). For instance, Anmarkrud et al. (2013) found students to be able to both distinguish more relevant from less relevant information presented across texts and to more frequently use cross-textual linking strategies when processing relevant vis-à-vis irrelevant information. Collectively these findings point to the need to consider where, or at what specific texts or text components, students direct their strategic efforts during multiple text use (e.g., rereading reliable versus unreliable websites; Wiley et al., 2009).

Nevertheless, considerably more work is needed to understand the where aspect of strategy use. This includes further examining whether targeting a given strategy referent is specifically associated with task performance, both on its own and in interaction with a particular strategy function engaged (e.g., Braasch et al., 2012; Wiley et al., 2009), and considering an expanded set of strategy referents as potential targets during multiple text use. These referents can include the central arguments forwarded in texts, the evidence provided, and other content-related factors (e.g., List et al., 2019).

Expanding beyond students’ learning from documents that are only textual in nature, examining where strategies are directed may be particularly important when understanding students’ learning from multiple, multimedia documents, or documents including textual information alongside non-textual content, like diagrams, tables, or videos (List & Alexander, 2018a).

Within the context of learning from multimedia documents, students’ iterative attendance to textual and non-textual features in textbooks (e.g., diagrams) has been associated with improved learning (Mason, Pluchino, & Tornatora, 2015; Mason,

Pluchino, Tornatora, & Ariasi, 2013; Schwonke, Berthold, & Renkl, 2009). For instance, Cromley, Snyder-Hogan, and Luciw-Dubas (2010) found that while many students skip over diagrams in science textbooks entirely (22%) or attend to a relatively limited set of diagram features (34% of the features possible), those students who do study diagrams, alongside textual content, demonstrate a greater number of inferences and high-level strategies engaged during processing as well as improved task performance. More recent studies examining students’ learning from various textual and non-textual sources have found students to engage different strategies in response to different types of documents. For instance, Van Meter and Cameron (2018) found students to take fewer notes on political cartoons than on historical documents, presented during a multiple text task, with the character of notes differing as well (i.e., more affective notes taken in response to political cartoons). All told, these findings point to the need to examine a variety of referents and their elicitation of strategy use during students’ learning from multiple, multimedia documents.

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