Impact of Augmented Reality Models on Students’ Usage of Gestures when Talking about Biochemistry

Rou-Jia Sung
Assistant Professor
Carleton College

Need: Learning biochemistry often involves the use and coordination of multiple external representations (ranging from 2D illustrations and physical models to 3D virtual models) of macromolecules. There are multiple examples in the literature highlighting the connection between gestures and meaning-making by students learning chemical concepts in chemistry; however, there is little known about whether this connection extends to student learning in biochemistry. Guiding Question: How does use of these external representations impact student gesture production and meaning-making when learning new biochemical content? Outcomes: In this study, we used a newly developed augmented reality (AR) model of the KscA channel to investigate the influence of external representations on student produced gestures during a discussion on KscA function. Semi-structured clinical interviews were conducted and recorded through Zoom. Seven undergraduate students who enrolled in an upper-division biochemistry course participated in the interview. During the interview, participants were presented with an AR model of KcsA channel after proposing a theory of how potassium ions move through the channel. Participants were then asked to modify their theory. In the first stage of analysis, interview participants’ utterances were transcribed and their gestures were described in terms of hand shape and movement. The identification of unique gestures as part of the coding process highlighted the importance of hand shape vs movement vs a combination of both as ways to delineate different gestures. In the second stage of analysis, qualitative and quantitative differences in student gesture production were identified through a comparative analysis of student gestures before and after their exposure to the AR model. Exposure to the AR model resulted in a shift from gestures that were more general (for example, holding two hands parallel to represent the channel) to more specific to the channel representation they say (for example, holding two hands to form a funnel shape or curling one hand into a tube shape). Broader impacts: Our findings add to existing literature on the use of external representation in biochemistry education by highlighting the relationships between AR mediated external representations and gesture mediated external representations. Implications for both the development of new external representations and instructor’s choice of external representations are discussed.


Anna Bridgeman*, Vanna Figueora*, Zoe Poolos*, Song Wang**, and Thomas Bussey** *Carleton College **University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University ***University of California, San Diego