Animations and Simulations for Teaching and Learning Molecular Chemistry


Animated visualizations that show both structures and processes help teachers convey important scientific concepts in chemistry and molecular biology. Designers of these animations benefit from knowing how students perceive and comprehend such visualizations. Specifically, instructional developers seek to design visualizations that allow students to learn critical concepts and relationships between these concepts. Students learn molecular chemistry concepts and relations by attending to, seeing, and understanding all the associated elements and the ways that they change and evolve during the process. Because often animations are too complex to be quickly understood, learners need to establish accurate mental models to assist in their comprehensions. 

In another recent study, researchers found that animations help students better understand dynamic molecular processes (Kelly & Jones, 2005). However, students take animation features literally and hence may misinterpret them, especially in cases where explanations are not clearly provided. Visualizations, when effectively designed and used help to insure adequate perception and comprehension in the real-world context of student learning (Tversky, 2001; Tasker, 2004). To be effective in teaching and learning, animations and interactive educational simulations must be designed based upon what is known about the principles of learning (Leahy & Sweller, 2004). Because studies show the potential positive effects of animations for learning and for developing mental representations, properly designed animations will provide instructors with new tools for teaching and learning science concepts. 

Animations and simulations visually help students understand difficult concepts related to the dynamics of complex chemical systems including molecules and reactions (Kozma & Russell, 2005). However, exploring the dynamics of interactions among students and how students interact with the tools merits attention from research. Group discussions about previously viewed animations help students notice aspects of the animation that they might miss while viewing the animation (Kelley, 2005). However, student mental models are positively and negatively affected by viewing animations of basic chemical processes. Kelly suggests that because students often take molecular chemistry animations literally, explanations must be provided to address misrepresentations. These explanations can often be implemented as discussions among students with guidance from an instructional facilitator.

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Lucy Morgan
Editorial Coordinator
Journal of Molecular Sciences
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