DNA is depicted in many different ways, which may or may not be clear to learners. The image here is from a project involving a card-sorting task that investigates the differences between novices and experts in how they categorize images. As students gain experience they become more expert-like in their performance on the task. A paper is in preparation on this project, and the tool is available for use by instructors for teaching and/or assessment purposes. Another current project is comparing how students interpret 2-D figures and 3-D suggestive videos of the same cellular processes.
The DNA Landscape is a teaching and research tool that describes figures of DNA in two dimensions: scale and abstractness. Undergraduate biology textbooks tend to focus on particular parts of the landscape, and certain subfields use particular nodes more than others. We hypothesize that students may have difficulty moving between nodes or recognizing the same concept with a different type of image.
The first DNA Landscape paper will be published soon in CBE-Life Sciences Education.
The protein landscape is similar to the DNA Landscape but for proteins. Preliminary work showed great differences between which types of images are used for different topics/subfields. We are currently revising the scheme and increasing our dataset.
We are using analogies to evaluate students' content knowledge and teach critical thinking. For example, the image at left shows a number of items we have asked students to relate to the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.