Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences

Advisor 1

Elizabeth Veinott

Advisor 2

Shane Mueller

Committee Member 1

Shari Stockero

Committee Member 2

Amanda Gonczi

Committee Member 3

Qian Zhang


One challenge in STEM education is the learning of technical terms. In order to reason about higher-order scientific concepts, knowledge of technical vocabulary is often a prerequisite. Improving this knowledge may enhance the learning of higher-order concepts because it reduces cognitive load students experience while learning. To that end, we need innovative learning-aid tools that help students not only in learning and remembering technical terms, but also in applying the learned knowledge to broader concepts. This dissertation investigates the hypothesis that learning gained from crosswords can be used to teach technical terms. Furthermore, I am also examining the hypothesis that additional elaboration techniques will enhance the effect of crosswords. In a series of seven experiments, I investigated the effect of crossword puzzles with an add-on elaboration on students’ ability to remember learned technical terms and to provide more in-depth explanations of those terms. Across the experiments, I investigated (a) three different types of elaboration techniques, (b) collaboration vs. individual participation, (c) in-person vs. online training, and (d) short vs. long delay. Across experimental variations, results indicated that using a crossword puzzle alone produced a statistically significant learning effect relative to a control condition. Although adding structured elaboration did provide benefits when added to a crossword puzzle, it did not consistently improve retention compared to the crossword puzzle alone. Also, different elaboration techniques did not provide specific enhancement on memory retention. Implications for theoretical perspectives on learning technical vocabulary and best practices to implement crossword in educational settings are discussed.