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Developing a common visual literacy amongst first year chemistry students using collaborative drawing tasks

posted on 22.02.2017, 03:04 authored by Dickson, Hayden
This thesis reports on research into understanding the ability of first year chemistry students to visually represent their understanding of chemistry concepts. The aim was to gather data that would inform the development and implementation of student-generated drawing questions into a first year university chemistry laboratory program; part of which involved the development of a criteria framework for assessing the drawings. The purpose of introducing drawing questions was to help diagnose alternative conceptions and improve conceptual understanding by engaging students ' at the macro, symbolic and submicro levels of representation. For the introduction to be successful, a common visual literacy needed to be developed amongst students to familiarise them with visually representing submicro particles, therefore enabling comparable drawings to be produced for assessment purposes. Introducing submicro drawing questions in the laboratory program was deemed appropriate after a review of the existing questions highlighted that students were being asked to express their understanding of concepts at the macro and symbolic levels of representation, but not the submicro level. Investigating students' ability to visually express chemistry concepts involved a review of the relevant chemistry education literature, student interviews and the collection of over three hundred student-generated drawings that were produced solely from the imagination of the participants. The introduction of assessable drawing questions included asking students to attempt three drawing tasks while following guidelines that were worded to allow the visual diagnosis of a range of commonly reported alternative conceptions.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Chris Thompson

Additional supervisor 1

Paddy O'Toole

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Master of Science

Degree Type



Faculty of Science