This paper analyses students’ conceptual sense-making of two representations of protein synthesis: animations and static visualizations. Even though several studies have focused on the effect of animations versus static visualizations or support aspects that enable students to effectively benefit from animations, existing research has not yet analysed the activity of students’ shared conceptual sense-making of these two modes of representation. Grounded in sociocultural perspectives, this study addresses this gap by investigating two classes of 10th graders working in the computer-supported Viten learning environment. One class worked on a unit containing animations, and the other on a unit where animations were replaced by static visualizations. Pre- and post-tests were administered to measure possible differences between the classes in their knowledge acquisition. Aiming to explain the quantitative findings, we performed an interaction analysis to scrutinize the interaction trajectory of two dyads, one from each condition, while working on an animation and static visualization of protein synthesis both in class and in conceptual interviews.
Our pre- and post-test findings demonstrate that students in the animated condition outperformed students in the static condition. The analysis of a dyad’s interaction indicates that students’ conceptual understanding develops at the juncture of segmentation of animation and text and students’ collaborative conceptual sense-making. We argue that interacting with animations and static visualizations are two different interactional processes, and based on our theoretical grounding, we hypothesise that this difference explains the different learning outcomes in the two conditions.
By taking a sociocultural approach, the study provides a deeper understanding of the very activity in settings in which students are introduced to the scientific concepts embedded in animations versus static visualizations. Cognitive theories explaining students’ learning from these two modes of representations dominate the research field. The current study contributes to the field by launching a hypothesis of why animations may be superior to static visualizations in supporting students’ development of conceptual understanding in science. We introduce the collaborative link-making hypothesis, which builds on the conceptualisation of pedagogical link-making introduced by well-known researchers in the field of science education.
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