Representational Tools to Support Understanding of Complex Biological Systems

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The purpose of this series of studies was to understand now experts and novices differ in their understanding of biological systems and to use the results from this study to design instruction. The results from the study of expertise demonstrated that the structure-behavior-function representation provided a good account of expert understanding. This conceptual representation was then used to design multimedia, simulations, and classroom instruction.

Setting: 

Laboratory and suburban middle school classrooms

Research Design: 

The research design for this project included experimental and quasi-experimental designs., These studies are designed to generate descriptive evidence using design research, and associative/correlational evidence [quasi-experimental]. This project collects original data using assessments of learning/achievement tests, and observation [videography]. Expertise studies were conducted using clinical interviews which were then adapted to use as written measures for the experimental and classroom studies.

Data were analyzed via qualitative and quantitative methods. Quantitative data were analyzed via analysis of variance and hierarchical linear modeling. Qualitative analysis was conducted using verbal data analysis.

Findings: 

The primary goals of this research was to understand (a) whether SBF models provide an adequate account of expert understanding, (b) how providing an explicit external representation supports development of a conceptual representation, and (c) how dynamic representational tools support learning about the representation.

We conducted a study of expert-novice differences in two domains and found that SBF models act as a conceptual representation associated with expertise. We have created the RepTools suit of hypermedia and simulations for two complex systems domains We have done two studies that embed SBF in hypermedia for middle school students and pre-service teachers, showing that this external representation supports development of conceptual representations. We have worked with 300 middle school children using NetLogo models of the aquariums and human respiratory system. Our pre and post test analyses demonstrated significant improvement. This suggest that the SBF model serves as a conceptual representation to organize learning in biological domains.

Publications & Presentations: 

Liu, L. & Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (in press). Promoting complex systems learning through the use of conceptual representations in hypermedia. Journal of Research in Science Teaching.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Jordan, R., Liu, L., Gray, S., Demeter, M., Rugaber, S., Vattam, S., & Goel., A. (2008). Focusing on function: Thinking below the surface of complex natural systems. Science Scope, 31(9), 27-35.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Marathe, S., & Liu, L. (2007). Fish swim, rocks sit, and lungs breathe: Expert-novice understanding of complex systems. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 16, 307-331.

Hmelo, Silver, C. E. & Azevedo, R. (2006). Understanding complex systems: Some core challenges. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15, 53-61.

Gray, S., Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Liu, L., R., J., Jeong, H., Schwartz, R., et al. (2008). Learning with ecosystem models: A tale of two classrooms. In G. Kanselaar, Jonker, V., Kirschner, P., & Prins, F. (Eds.), Proceedings ICLS 2008 (pp. 289-296). International Society for the Learning Sciences. Utrecht. Netherlands (Ed.), International perspectives in the learning sciences: Cre8ing a learning world. Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference for the Learning Sciences (Vol. 1, pp. 289-296). Utrecht, The Netherlands: International Society for the Learning Sciences.

Liu, L., & Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2008). Collaborative Scientific Conceptual Change in a Simulation-supported Learning Environment. In G. Kanselaar, Jonker, V., Kirschner, P., & Prins, F. (Eds.), Proceedings ICLS 2008 (pp. 289-296). International Society for the Learning Sciences. Utrecht. Netherlands (Ed.), International perspectives in the learning sciences: Cre8ing a learning world. Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference for the Learning Sciences (Vol. 1, pp. 477-484). Utrecht, The Netherlands: International Society for the Learning Sciences.

Marathe, S., Hmelo-Silver, C.E., & Liu, L. (2007). A qualitative analysis of expert-expert differences in understanding aquariums. In D.S. McNamara & J.G. Trafton (Eds.), Proceedings of the 29th Annual Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1265-1270). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Liu, L., & Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2007). Computer-supported Collaborative Learning and Conceptual Change. In C. Chinn, G. Erkens, & S. Puntambekar (Eds). Proceedings of CSCL 2007 (pp. 454-463). New Brunswick, NJ: International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2007). The power of technology to support complex learning. The power of media in education: NBE 2007 conference (pp. 23-34). In H. Ruokamo, M. Kangas, M. Lehtonen, & K. Kumpulainen (Eds). Rovaniemi, Finland: University of Lapland.

Liu, L. Hmelo-Silver, C., & Marathe, S. (2007). RepTools: Representational tools to support learning about complex systems. In Proceedings of the NARST 2007 Annual Meeting [CD-ROM).

Liu, L., Marathe, S., & Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2006). Effects of conceptual representations on learning from hypermedia. In S. A. Barab, K. E. Hay, & D. T. Hickey (Eds.). Proceedings of 7th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (pp. 495- 501). Mahwah. NJ: Erlbaum.

Other Products: 

RepTools software: function oriented hypermedia for respiratory and aquarium system; NetLogo simulations at both macro and micro level for aquarium.