Cook Wiebe Carter - Science Education 2008

The influence of prior knowledge on viewing and interpreting graphics with macroscopic and molecular representations
Sci Ed 92:848–867, 2008

Michelle Cook, Eric N. Wiebe, Glenda Carter

Previous research has indicated that the use of multiple representations with macroscopic and molecular features can improve conceptual understanding; however, the influence of prior knowledge of the domain cannot be overlooked. Using eyetracking technology and sequential analysis, this study investigated how high school students n 54 with different levels of prior knowledge transitioned among the macroscopic and molecular representations of the selected cell transport graphics. The results indicated that high prior knowledge students transitioned more frequently between the molecular representations, whereas low prior knowledge students transitioned more frequently between the macroscopic representations. These findings suggest that students with high prior knowledge distributed their visual attention on conceptually relevant features, whereas low prior knowledge students focused on surface features. In addition, low prior knowledge students transitioned more frequently between macroscopic and molecular representations, suggesting that these students were experiencing more difficulty as they were coordinating the representations. Because these students were using surface features to create linkages between the representations, they were unable to understand the underlying themes. More research on the differences in the distribution of visual attention among learners can provide further insight as to the difficulties low prior knowledge students face when interpreting multiple representations.