Development of a taxonomy for visual literacy in the molecular life sciences.
Mnguni, Lindelani Elphas.
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The use of external representations (ERs) such as diagrams and animations in science education, particularly in the Molecular Life Sciences (MLS), has rapidly increased over the past decades. Research shows that ERs have a superior advantage over text alone for teaching and learning. Research has also indicated a number of concerns coupled with the use of ERs for education purposes. Such problems emanate from the mode of presentation and/or inability to use ERs. Regarding the later, a number of factors have been identified as major causes of student difficulties and they include visual literacy as one of the major factors. Given that little has been done to understand the nature of VL in the MLS the current study was conducted with the general aim of investigating this area and devising a way to measure the visual literacy levels of our students. More specifically, this study addressed the following research questions: i) What is the nature of visual literacy in MLS?; ii) Can specific levels of visual literacy be defined in the MLS?; and iii) Is a taxonomy a useful way of representing the levels of visual literacy for MLS? To respond to these questions, the current literature was used to define the nature of visual literacy and the visualization skills (VSs). These were then used to develop a Visual Literacy Test made up on probes in the context of Biochemistry. In these probes, the VSs were incorporated. The test was administered to 3rd year Biochemistry students who were also interviewed. Results were analysed qualitatively and quantitatively. The later analysis utilized the Rasch model to generate an item difficulty map. The results of the current study show that visual literacy is multifaceted in nature and is context based in that it requires specific propositional knowledge. In line with this, it was found that visual literacy is expressed through a cognitive process of visualization which requires VSs. Based on the performance of these skills, learners’ optimal visual literacy in the context of the MLS can be defined. Such performance can be assessed through the development of probes in the Biochemistry context. Furthermore, the current research has shown that using probes, the difficulty degree of each VS can be determined. In this instance, the Rasch model is a preferred method of ranking VSs in the context of Biochemistry in order of difficulty. From this, it was shown that given the uniqueness of each skill’s degree of difficulty, each skill can thus be regarded as a level of visual literacy. Such levels were defined in terms of the norm difficulty obtained in the current study. Given the multifaceted nature of visual literacy, the current study adopted the view that there are infinite number of VSs and hence the number of levels of visual literacy. From the variation in the degree of difficulty, the study showed that there are nonvisualization and visualization type difficulties which contribute to the differences in visual literacy levels between Biochemistry students. In addition to this, the current study showed that visual literacy in the MLS can be presented through a taxonomy. Such a taxonomy can be used to determine the level of each VS, its name and definition, typical difficulties found in the MLS as well as the visualization stage at which each skill is performed. Furthermore, this taxonomy can be used to design models, assess students’ visual literacy, identify and inform the remediation of students’ visualization difficulties. While the study has successfully defined the nature of visual literacy for the MLS and presented visual literacy in a taxonomy, more work is required to further understand visual literacy for the MLS, a field where visual literacy is very prevalent.
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