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Educational Challenges of Molecular Life Science- Characteristics and implications for education and research
Linköping University, Department of Science and Technology, Visual Information Technology and Applications (VITA). Linköping University, The Institute of Technology. (Visual learning and communication)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4694-5611
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Department of Water and Environmental Studies. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences. (FONTD)
2010 (English)In: CBE - Life Sciences Education, ISSN 1931-7913, E-ISSN 1931-7913, Vol. 9, no 1, 25-33 p.Article in journal (Other academic) Published
Abstract [en]

Molecular life science is one of the fastest-growing fields of scientific and technical innovation, and biotechnology has profound effects on many aspects of daily life, often with deep ethical dimensions. At the same time the content is inherently complex, highly abstract and deeply rooted in diverse disciplines ranging from “pure sciences,” such as maths, chemistry, and physics, through “applied sciences”, such as medicine and agriculture, to subjects that are traditionally within the remit of humanities, notably philosophy and ethics. Together these features pose diverse, important, and exciting challenges for tomorrow’s teachers and educational establishments.

With backgrounds in molecular life science research and secondary life science teaching, we (LT and CJR, respectively) bring different experiences, perspectives, concerns, and awareness of these issues. Taking the nature of the discipline as a starting point, we highlight important facets of molecular life science that are both characteristic of the domain and challenging for learning and education. Of these challenges we focus in most detail on content, reasoning difficulties, and communication issues. We also discuss implications for education research and teaching in the molecular life sciences.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Bethesda, MD, United States: American Society for Cell Biology , 2010. Vol. 9, no 1, 25-33 p.
Keyword [en]
Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Visualization, Complex learning, Abstraction, Multidisciplinary, Reasoning difficulties
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-51568DOI: 10.1187/cbe.08-09-0055ISI: 000284836100006PubMedID: 20194805OAI: diva2:275794

Original Publication: Lena Tibell and Carl-Johan Rundgren, Educational Challenges of Molecular Life Science- Characteristics and implications for education and research, 2010, CBE Life Sciences Education, (9), 1, 25-33. Copyright: American Society for Cell Biology

Available from: 2009-11-07 Created: 2009-11-07 Last updated: 2016-05-04Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Visual thinking, visual speech: a semiotic perspective on meaning-making in molecular life science
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Visual thinking, visual speech: a semiotic perspective on meaning-making in molecular life science
2008 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Molecular life science has become one of the fastest-growing fields of scientific and technical innovation. An important issue for tomorrow’s education is to meet the challenge posed by various facets of molecular life science. Images, diagrams and other forms of visualization are playing increasingly important roles in molecular life science teaching and research, both for conveying information and as conceptual tools, transforming the way we think about the events and processes the subject covers.

This thesis highlights different aspects of molecular life science education: the rapid production and flow of information, its multi- and interdisciplinary character, the complexity of life phenomena and our knowledge of them, and the high level of abstraction of the knowledge produced. This study also examines how upper secondary and tertiary students interpret visualizations of proteins. The participating upper secondary students were taking different variants of the natural science program in the second (grade 11) or third (grade 12) year. A set of 20 upper secondary students, and four third-year biochemistry students were interviewed in semistructured, revised clinical interviews. Furthermore, 31 university students participated in a group discussion and answered a questionnaire. The interviews, group discussions and questionnaires were structured around 2D illustrations of proteins and an animated representation of water molecules being transported through a channel in the cell membrane.

Three critical features of the ability to visualize molecular processes were identified: the complexity of biomolecular processes, the dynamic and stochastic nature of biomolecular interaction, and extrapolation between 2D and 3D. The results also indicate that the students may possess an understanding of a process which they cannot express in words.

Furthermore, the results indicate that beginner students use a kind of intermediate language when learning a new content area, frequently making use of metaphors, some that they have obtained from their teaching and some that they create themselves, i.e. spontaneous metaphors. They also make use of words that seemingly have no meaning, such as “plupp” and “flopp”. These words are here referred to as help-words. The results from this study indicate that spontaneous metaphors and helpwords do take on a meaning in learning situations and that they play a role in the meaning-making of the students. Moreover, the results indicate that difficulties in science education may to a large degree be connected to the problems of communicating the precise and general nature of scientific terms.

Abstract [sv]

De molekylära livsvetenskaperna framstår som ett av de mest snabbväxande fälten inom naturvetenskap och teknik. En viktig fråga för framtida utbildning är därför hur vi kan bemästra de olika aspekterna av denna utveckling. Bilder, diagram och andra former av visualiseringar spelar en allt viktigare roll i de molekylära livsvetenskaperna, såväl för undervisning som för forskning. De kan användas för att förmedla information och som tankeredskap, med förmåga att bygga upp och transformera vår förståelse av de fenomen och processer som studeras.

Denna avhandling fokuserar olika aspekter av utbildning i molekylär livsvetenskap, bl.a. det snabba flödet av, och produktionen av information, områdets multi- och interdisciplinära karaktär, komplexiteten hos biologiska och biokemiska system och vår kunskap om dessa, samt den abstrakta karaktären av denna kunskap. Speciellt fokuserar avhandlingen frågan hur gymnasieelever och universitetsstudenter tolkar visualiseringar av proteiner. De deltagande gymnasieeleverna studerade olika varianter av det naturvetenskapliga programmet och gick i andra och tredje årskursen i gymnasiet, och de deltagande universitetsstudenterna studerade biokemi inom ramen för kemisk biologi programmet. Semistrukturerade, reviderade kliniska intervjuer genomfördes med tjugo gymnasieelever och fyra universitetsstudenter. Trettioen (31) förstaårsstudenter på universitetsprogrammet kemisk biologi besvarade en enkät och deltog i en videofilmad gruppdiskussion. Intervjuerna, gruppdiskussionerna och enkäten strukturerades kring illustrationer av proteiner och en animation av hur vattenmolekyler passerar genom ett kanalprotein (aquaporin) i cellmembranet.

Tre kritiska aspekter av förmågan att visualisera molekylära processer identifierades: biomolekylära processers komplexitet, den dynamiska och stokastiska karaktären hos dessa, samt extrapolering mellan 2D och 3D. Resultaten indikerar även att det är möjligt att ha en förståelse som inte kan uttryckas i ord.

Resultaten visar dessutom att nybörjare inom ett område använder ett slags intermediärt språk, vilket innehåller en stor andel metaforer, av vilka en del har inhämtats från undervisningen medan andra är spontana, d.v.s. uppfinns av den lärande själv. Till yttermera visso använder nybörjarstudenter ord som skenbart kan sakna betydelse, sådana ord som “plupp” och “flopp”. Dessa ord benämns här hjälpord. Resultaten från denna undersökning visar att spontana metaforer och hjälpord tilldelas specifika meningar i lärsituationer och att de spelar en roll i elevernas meningsskapande. Ytterligare en aspekt av resultaten som presenteras i denna avhandling är att en stor del av problemen i naturvetenskaplig undervisning kan kopplas till svårigheter med att förmedla den precisa och generella innebörden av vetenskapliga termer.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2008. 51 p.
Studies in Science and Technology Education, ISSN 1652-5051 ; 20
Molecular life science, visualizations, metaphors, help-words
National Category
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-21103 (URN)978-91-7393-859-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2008-09-12, DeGeergymnasiet, Nygatan 68, Norrköping, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2009-12-11 Created: 2009-09-29 Last updated: 2016-05-04Bibliographically approved

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