P89: Cognitive affordances of multiple external representations in a virtual chemistry lab
Computer module labs replaced five “wet” labs for a first quarter general chemistry course. These computer modules were designed to help students connect macroscopic, sub-microscopic, and symbolic representations. Comparison of gain scores on online homework pre and post questions between students taking all “wet” lab curriculum and the module lab curriculum revealed no statistical difference between the module and “wet” lab curriculum. Though the gain scores did not reflect differences in student learning, literature suggests that multimedia environments may be uniquely situated to train students to make connections between levels of representation. To investigate this, discussions between pairs of students were monitored for the extent to which the module labs supported transitions between the three levels of representation, as evidenced by the students’ dialogue. Transitions were then correlated to: 1) level of cognitive processing of the questions in the virtual labs, as measured by their Bloom’s Taxonomy (BT) level, and 2) nature of the visual representations in the questions. Questions with intermediate BT ratings contained the highest frequency of transitions between levels of representation. Transitions within questions at higher levels were more likely to involve symbolic representation than questions at lower levels. Finally, questions with dynamic, interactive visual representations resulted in more transitions than questions with static representations. Our research suggests the level of cognitive processing and type of representations used in a question can cue students to use and translate between particular levels of representation for solving chemistry problems.