Images, diagrams, and other forms of visualization are playing increasingly important roles in molecular life science teaching and research, both for conveying information and as conceptual tools, transforming the way we think about the events and processes the subject covers. This study examines how upper secondary and tertiary students interpret visualizations of transport through the cell membrane in the form of a still image and an animation. Twenty upper secondary and five tertiary students were interviewed. In addition, 31 university students participated in a group discussion and answered a questionnaire regarding the animation. A model, based on variation theory, was then tested as a tool for distinguishing between what is expected to be learned, what is present in the visualizations, and what is actually learned by the students. Three critical features of the ability to visualize biomolecular processes were identified from the students’ interpretations of the animation: the complexity of biomolecular processes, the dynamic and random nature of biomolecular interactions, and extrapolation between 2D and 3D. The results of this study support the use of multiple representations to achieve different learning goals.

Key words

life science education multimodal learning phenomenography variation theory visualization water transport 


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Supplementary material

10763_2009_9171_MOESM1_ESM.doc (25 kb)
ESM 1 Appendix 1: Interview guide. (DOC 25 kb)
10763_2009_9171_MOESM2_ESM.doc (530 kb)
ESM 2 Appendix 2: Questionnaire: transport of water molecules through the cell membrane. (DOC 529 kb)
10763_2009_9171_MOESM3_ESM.doc (358 kb)
ESM 3 Appendix 3: The two visualizations. (DOC 358 kb)
10763_2009_9171_MOESM4_ESM.doc (26 kb)
ESM 4 Appendix 4: Example of critical features identified from students’ interpretation of the diagram. (DOC 25 kb)


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Copyright information

© National Science Council, Taiwan 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social and Welfare StudiesLinköping UniversityNorrköpingSweden
  2. 2.Visual Learning and Communication Department of Science and Technology, ITNLinköping UniversityNorrköpingSweden

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