Innovating the Study of Self-Regulated Learning: An Exploration through NLP, Generative AI, and LLMs

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation explores the use of natural language processing (NLP) and large language models (LLMs) to analyze student self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies in response to exam wrappers. Exam wrappers are structured reflection activities that prompt students to practice SRL after they get their graded exams back. The dissertation consists of three manuscripts that compare traditional qualitative analysis with NLP-assisted approaches using transformer-based models including GPT-3.5, a state-of-the-art LLM. The data set comprises 3,800 student responses from an engineering physics course. The first manuscript develops two NLP-assisted codebooks for identifying learning strategies related to SRL in exam wrapper responses and evaluates the agreement between them and traditional qualitative analysis. The second manuscript applies a novel NLP technique called zero-shot learning (ZSL) to classify student responses into the codes developed in the first manuscript and assesses the accuracy of this method by evaluating a subset of the full dataset. The third manuscript identifies the distribution and differences of learning strategies and SRL constructs among students of different exam performance profiles using the results from the second manuscript. The dissertation demonstrates the potential of NLP and LLMs to enhance qualitative research by providing scalable, robust, and efficient methods for analyzing large corpora of textual data. The dissertation also contributes to the understanding of SRL in engineering education by revealing the common learning strategies, impediments, and SRL constructs that students report they use while preparing for exams in a first-year engineering physics course. The dissertation suggests implications, limitations, and directions for future research on NLP, LLMs, and SRL.



Natural language processing, Large language models, self-regulated learning, exam wrappers, foundational engineering