Bridging the educational research-teaching practice gap

Foundations for assessing and developing biochemistry students' visual literacy

Authors

  • Konrad J. Schönborn,

    1. Department of Science and Technology (ITN), Division of Media and Information Technology, Linköping University, Sweden
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  • Trevor R. Anderson

    Corresponding author
    1. Science Education Research Group (SERG), School of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
    • Science Education Research Group (SERG), School of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
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Abstract

External representations (ERs), such as diagrams, animations, and dynamic models are vital tools for communicating and constructing knowledge in biochemistry. To build a meaningful understanding of structure, function, and process, it is essential that students become visually literate by mastering key cognitive skills that are essential for interpreting and visualizing ERs. In this article, first we describe a model of seven factors influencing students' ability to learn from ERs. Second, we use this model and relevant literature to identify eight cognitive skills central to visual literacy in biochemistry. Third, we present simple examples of tasks as a foundation for designing more sophisticated and complex items for assessing and developing students' visual literacy. We conclude that visual literacy is fundamental to the development of sound conceptual understanding and it is crucial to develop visual skills in parallel with meaningful learning outcomes in all biochemistry curricula.

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