In Touch with Molecules: Extending Learning with Cyber-enabled Tangibles

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This project brings together researchers in cognition and student learning, working scientists, and educators to investigate how cyber-enabled tangibles promote different and improved ways for high school and college students to learn core concepts in molecular biology. The aims are to 1) identify the affordances of the cyber-enabled tangibles for conveying difficult-to-teach molecular concepts, 2) establish the usability and feasibility of using cyber-enabled tangibles for instruction, and 3) determine whether and how cyber-enabled tangibles affect student learning and engagement in biology.


The project will involve both lab-based think aloud studies and classroom-based studies in California.

Research Design: 

The project uses a comparative research design and will generate evidence that is descriptive [case study and observational] and associative/correlational [quasi-experimental]. Original data will be collected on high school and graduate biology students, biology teachers and practicing biologists using assessments of learning, observation [personal observation, Web logs], and survey research [self-completion questionnaires]. The intervention is curricular activities to be used with cyber-enabled tangibles for key concepts in molecular biology and will be evaluated by comparing outcomes to student learning with traditional materials.

Phase 1 will investigate the affordances of the cyber-enabled tangibles for conveying difficult-to-teach concepts in molecular biology in new and different ways. Phase 2 will study whether the cyber-enabled tangibles are usable by students and teachers and feasible for use in the classroom. Finally, Phase 3 will research how the tangibles influence student learning and engagement. Phase 1 will involve think-aloud studies with students and experts as well as teacher interviews. Phase 2 will additionally involve teacher logs, questionnaires, and classroom observations. Finally, Phase 3 will involve pre and posttests designed to measure conceptual understanding and spatial knowledge with items from the Molecular Science Concept Inventory (Wright & Hamilton, 2008).

Qualitative analyses will be carried out of student and expert think aloud data, student interviews, student surveys and classroom observations to evaluate student learning and engagement. The analyses will produce summaries of where students encountered difficulties and will capture contextual information to inform the revisions of both the tangibles and accompanying activities. Quantitative analyses will be carried out using gain scores from the pre/post assessments to provide evidence of student learning. Finally, the analyses will compare the data collected across high school and college students to identify whether and how the materials affected students at the different educational levels.


Findings will be posted as they become available.

Other Products: 

This project will generate functioning prototypes of the cyber-enabled tangible molecular models with accompanying curricular materials.