Wheel Spinning – When do instructors need to intervene in online courses?

Case Study

Wheel Spinning – When do instructors need to intervene in online courses?

Based on Work by:
Joseph E. Beck, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Yue Gong, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Intervention Types



This case study looks at students who persistently fail in solving problems using cognitive tutors in mathematics. Although the software repeatedly poses endless practice problems, this group of students continues to get them wrong. Such “wheel-spinning” indicates a likelihood that the student will continue to struggle and may never master the skill without alternative interventions by the instructor.  There may be connections between wheel spinning and other negative student behaviors, such as gaming and disengagement. There are two important implications of such wheel spinning for TEL designers: First, it is perhaps not wise to use all data for model-fitting purposes when training a student model, since data from wheel spinners may underestimate average learning rates. Second, designers should develop some fallback for failures of mastery learning. The simplified mastery learning cycle of “present problems until mastery” does not work for many learners, and alternative strategies are needed.

Conclusions and Lessons Learned

  • “Wheel spinning” students are those who may never achieve mastery using TEL systems, and instructors and designers need to develop fallback approaches to supporting such learners.
  • Wheel spinning may be connected to gaming and other kinds of disengagement.
  • Data from such students may affect model fitting, by underestimating average learning rates

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Cited References


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