Learning at the nanoscale: The impact of students' use of remote microscopy on concepts of viruses, scale, and microscopy



The rapid pace of development is bringing advanced technologies to the World Wide Web (WWW), and, as a result, schools have access to new tools for science investigations. In this exploratory study, we investigated how an educational experience organized around students' use of a WWW-controllable atomic force microscope (AFM) influenced students' understandings of viruses. The context for the study was a weeklong unit on viruses for two high school biology classes which incorporated student use of the WWW controllable AFM. We also investigated how the haptic (involving kinesthetics and touch) experiences afforded by this tool might influence students' knowledge of viruses, microscopy, and nanometer scale. Fifty students from two high school biology classes participated in a series of instructional activities and pre- and postassessments (knowledge test, opinion questionnaire, and interviews). Results showed that students' understandings of microscale, virus morphology, and dimensionality changed as a result of the experiences. Students' conceptions moved from a two-dimensional textbook-like image of a virus to a three-dimensional image of an adenovirus. The results of this preliminary study suggest that the use of the technology as a tool for learning about morphology of materials too small to see may be beneficial. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 40: 303–322, 2003