The construction and analogical transfer of symbolic visualizations

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Abstract

Two studies explored whether adolescents can and will construct abstract visualizations to structure complex information. Experiment 1 showed that students can structure novel information with visualizations. Seventh-, 9th-, and 10th-grade students were directed to construct visualizations of complex transmission problems in biology (e.g., epidemiology). Two-thirds of the resulting visualizations at each grade level captured the structure of the problems. The 9th/10th graders primarily constructed path diagrams (i.e., directed graphs), and the 7th graders constructed more original visualizations. Experiment 2 showed that students will analogically transfer specific visualizations and will transfer the strategy of visualizing. On pre- and posttests 7th graders solved transmission problems without cues to visualize. During an intervention, students in two treatments constructed and learned visualizations for three problem types. In the Path treatment, one problem type involved path diagrams. In the No-Path treatment an alternate problem type was used as a filler visualization task. Overall, 50% more students used visualizations on the posttest compared to the pretest. Students in the Path treatment analogically transferred the path diagram to the posttest, whereas students in the No-Path treatment spontaneously constructed alternative visualizations. These findings suggest that instruction in visualizing may develop a strategy that students can and will use to understand the structure in complex and novel information.

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