Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Kimberly Wolbers

Committee Members

David H. Smith, Stergios Botzakis, Dania Bilal


Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students bring diverse language and literacy backgrounds to the task of academic reading, which becomes increasingly complex and abstract in the upper grades. Teachers often differentiate their instruction by providing multimedia resources, of which students interact with verbal and pictorial information. A growing body of research supports multimedia learning; however, most of the studies have focused exclusively on learning outcomes, leaving teachers in the dark about the cognitive processes underlying these effects. This mixed methods study addresses this gap by using a nonfiction comic to investigate the reading processes of DHH 7th -12th grade students. Eye tracking and cued retrospective protocol were employed in a concurrent nested design to answer the question, how do DHH students read and learn from multimedia science texts? This study was guided by the cognitive theory of multimedia which states that reading comprehension is better supported when learning from words and pictures rather than words alone, especially when readers cognitively integrate the two representations to form a coherent mental model. Temporal and sequential eye tracking results revealed that readers’ transitions between related words and pictures were a statistically significant variable in explaining factual knowledge learning outcomes. These strategic shifts in attention were further explained by readers’ retrospective verbal reports of their thinking. Students’ descriptions of their vii reading processes were interpreted into the following themes: repairing, connecting representations, passive transitions, and connecting to self. The integration of quantitative and qualitative methods at the interpretation stage revealed that although the theme of repairing was equally distributed across all student reports, the theme of connecting representations was largely present in the reports from students who made high counts of integrative transitions. The major findings of this study align with the cognitive theory of multimedia, that students’ learning outcomes were significantly predicted by the deliberate strategies to cognitively integrate words and pictures to form and maintain a coherent mental model. The discussion includes ways in which teachers can capitalize on explicit modeling of these behaviors and employ students’ “think alouds” to better understand and support the development of effective multimedia reading processes.

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