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3D visualization skills incorporation into an undergraduate biology course.

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Current trends indicate that the population explosion and invasion of information technology, particularly in developing nations, are likely to overwhelm education systems and policy makers, educators, researchers and therefore the community faces enormous challenges. Also, many graduates of various levels and disciplines appear unable to practically apply their knowledge in problem solving situations. In an attempt to achieve and maintain high educational standards, many nations are devoting substantial proportions of the gross domestic product toward educational endeavours. However, few systems are adopting modern education practices that intrinsically motivate and engage learners, and are at the same time flexible enough to consider students' aspirations and interests. It is argued that such systems would make learning more relevant, meaningful and enjoyable to the learners and are bound to improve exit performances. In such a system, the role of the teacher is that of a facilitator, and not instructor. Constructivism, a philosophy which holds that knowledge is actively constructed by learners through learning, is regarded as promising to provide a long-term solution to many educational problems since its underlying principles are argued to be holistic. It has become imperative that technology in general and the computer in particular should play a role as educational tools as these have capabilities that could be designed to make learning relevant and interesting to learners. It is argued that its use within constructivist approaches and curriculum considerations would increase learner abilities. An eclectic approach to curriculum design is advised for success in this endeavour. Since computers permeate most aspects of our lives (directly or indirectly) their inclusion in teaching and learning situations must become a reality. This project is focused on underscoring the fact that computer based education (CBE), under constructivist philosophy, can provide solutions to problems brought about by extreme interpretations of the deductive or traditional teaching approach. Particularly, it attempts to show that use of three-dimensional (3D) visualizations could significantly aid comprehension and perception of, among other units of discourse, cytoplasmic structure, geo-referenced graphical data, and the understanding of spatial relationships. This is a technique that has, in the recent past, received little attention and no extensive educational research has been carried out with the aim of perfecting it. Recent research carried out by members of the Biological Pedagogy (Bioped) research group identified conceptual problems in learners regarding biological processes such as photosynthesis and respiration. Having established that the misconceptions in learners were attributable to their lack of visualization ability, the first part of the project involved identifying some of the specific visual problems. A qualitative research approach was used to ascertain from university lecturers what convictions, beliefs and experiences they had had with their students that related to use of visualization skills. Skills most required included interpretation of 2D and 3D structures as well as their rotation in space. A survey was also carried out among Cell Biology first and second year students of the School of Life and Environmental Studies in order to precisely determine aspects of three-dimensionality and visual skills suspected to cause conceptual difficulties. Quantitative data analysis showed that the most deficient skills in the learners included pattern folding (projecting 2D material into 3D objects), orientation of form (identifying 3D objects that are oriented differently) and rotation (identifying 3D objects from top and front views). These findings corroborated qualitative analysis of lecturers opinions and convictions. An educational computer game was designed with the aim of ameliorating these problems. The game consisted of 3D scenes where puzzles related to the skills mentioned above needed to be solved. It was recommended that visualization skills should be incorporated into the biology curriculum for all undergraduate students within the first year of the course.


Thesis (M.Ed.)-University of Natal, 1999.


Teaching--Aids and devices., Three-dimensional display systems., Visualization., Computer-assisted instruction., Theses--Education., Biology--Study and teaching (Higher)