Future directions in representing learning in Biology


  • Pauline Ross


This is a reflective piece on the process of identifying the difficulty students have with underlying biological concepts, a discussion about how educators can metacognitively construct a range of representation strategies (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, analogical) to help students increase their conceptual understanding and where we are yet to go in the future. There has been much discussion about consciously appealing to different modes of learning by presenting difficult concepts using a range of representations, but this has been done in an ad hoc manner, with choice of visual, analogy or ‘wet lab’ dependent on precedent, intuition, or convenience using the cornucopia of strategies we feel confident in, rather than pedagogically sound rationale. It has been known for sometime that certain representations (such as analogies) cause conceptual difficulties for students and it is unlikely that one representational strategy alone will be the panacea for creating the visual imagery students need to develop the accepted scientific conceptual framework. Multiple representations of the same concept may also confuse students because they cannot translate or link the representations we use into their conceptual framework. For example, students may not visualise and link scale and dimension of the microscopic and submicroscopic worlds necessary for understanding enzyme action, if they are presented with a macroscopic-scale model followed by observing the macroscopic outcomes of a biochemical reaction in a ‘wet-lab’ with a mental submicroscopic visual model of an enzyme discussed in a lecture or animated in an on-line environment. We can use structure mapping theory, in the future to represent and linking representations based on identified misconceptions and threshold concepts to increase students’ conceptual understanding.