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What Think-Aloud Protocols Can Teach Us about How People Manage Political Information
Unformatted Document Text:  and find ways to draw connections and contrasts between them, it stands to reason that their ability to work with the sources would improve. Drawing these connections was more the hallmark of expert behavior than it was of novice behavior. The experts drew, on average, 8.25 connections between sources in their think-alouds, compared to 4.75 for the novices. In terms of making connections that could clearly be classified as putting the pieces sharply in contrast to one another, the experts did this an average of 4.75 times, compared to just 2.25 for the novices (all other connections were classified as being supportive – noting that a couple of pieces agreed with each other – or neither contrasting nor supportive). One particular excerpt from a think-aloud is quite revealing. Nick, one of the experts in the study, was reading an article that focused on the victims of capital punishment – why are people paying so much attention to those who suffer the death penalty and not enough to the victims they murdered. His comments reveal a good deal of connecting between the different sources: “I’m reading this quote about how we should execute murderers because that might prevent other people from murdering….I don’t get this quote. The speaker seems to think that capital punishment can be a deterrent. But I don’t think that’s been established. Here, this article [pulls out Death Penalty 101] says that it isn’t….I don’t know why it would be, I mean, these people, the people that kill other people, they’re not going to sit there and say, like, ‘I wonder if this makes logical sense to do.”…They’re acting out of emotion, in the spur of the moment….I just don’t see it as a deterrent….[Continues reading]…And that other article [Death Penalty 101] talks about all the people who were freed from death row….If we’re not sure someone is guilty, how can we use the death penalty? I mean, there’s no do-overs if you kill an innocent person.” In this passage alone, Nick has made two connections to other sources that contradict the account given in the article. In so doing, he is able to set this piece in context, and make the articles fit together. The ability to do this was not restricted to the experts, of course; novices did this as well. But they did not do this as often, nor did they do it as well. Making connections seems an important step in being able to do the assignment asked of these students. Being able to keep track of seven different articles, and the arguments and evidence presented in each, can tax the ability of many students. By making connections across the articles, the students are able to simplify the large amount 12

Authors: Bernstein, Jeffrey.
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and find ways to draw connections and contrasts between them, it stands to reason that
their ability to work with the sources would improve.
Drawing these connections was more the hallmark of expert behavior than it was
of novice behavior. The experts drew, on average, 8.25 connections between sources in
their think-alouds, compared to 4.75 for the novices. In terms of making connections that
could clearly be classified as putting the pieces sharply in contrast to one another, the
experts did this an average of 4.75 times, compared to just 2.25 for the novices (all other
connections were classified as being supportive – noting that a couple of pieces agreed
with each other – or neither contrasting nor supportive).
One particular excerpt from a think-aloud is quite revealing. Nick, one of the
experts in the study, was reading an article that focused on the victims of capital
punishment – why are people paying so much attention to those who suffer the death
penalty and not enough to the victims they murdered. His comments reveal a good deal
of connecting between the different sources:
“I’m reading this quote about how we should execute murderers because that
might prevent other people from murdering….I don’t get this quote. The speaker
seems to think that capital punishment can be a deterrent. But I don’t think that’s
been established. Here, this article [pulls out Death Penalty 101] says that it
isn’t….I don’t know why it would be, I mean, these people, the people that kill
other people, they’re not going to sit there and say, like, ‘I wonder if this makes
logical sense to do.”…They’re acting out of emotion, in the spur of the
moment….I just don’t see it as a deterrent….[Continues reading]…And that other
article [Death Penalty 101] talks about all the people who were freed from death
row….If we’re not sure someone is guilty, how can we use the death penalty? I
mean, there’s no do-overs if you kill an innocent person.”
In this passage alone, Nick has made two connections to other sources that contradict the
account given in the article. In so doing, he is able to set this piece in context, and make
the articles fit together. The ability to do this was not restricted to the experts, of course;
novices did this as well. But they did not do this as often, nor did they do it as well.
Making connections seems an important step in being able to do the assignment
asked of these students. Being able to keep track of seven different articles, and the
arguments and evidence presented in each, can tax the ability of many students. By
making connections across the articles, the students are able to simplify the large amount
12


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