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Friday, August 18, 2006

Learning Better and Faster

There is not a lot of surprise in hearing that biology students retain more if they are taught using animated 3D graphics accompanied by annotations, than if they learn from 2D graphics and text in a textbook.

What was striking to me about a report I came upon of a couple of experiments at Harvard comparing these methods was that undergraduates experienced not only improved retention, but also faster learning.

In one experiment,
...Robert Lue, who created Biovisions [the project developing the enriched graphics] ... tested two separate groups of 12 undergraduates on their ability to interpret experimental data and draw conclusions from it. One group was given 90 minutes with the latest textbook on the subject; the other was given 20 minutes with animations in an interactive interface. The group with the animations scored almost 30 percent higher. [emphasis added]
In the other experiment,
... two groups of students studied the same concept and then were tested on it. The first group had notes augmented by the animation and one hour in which to study. The second group had a textbook with assigned readings and two hours in which to study. [emphasis added]

The results showed the students who saw the animation did better, Lue said, scoring an average of 93 percent on a test of facts, compared to 79 percent for those who used the textbook [a difference of 17%].
As a Harvard news item explains, "The difference [between 2D and 3D animated graphics is] dramatic, with the animations bringing to life the flat, sometimes confusing textbook images, showing not just the structure of complex processes, but allowing students to watch them at work." And, as the experiments indicate, the impact on learning is decidedly positive.

The goal of the Biovisions Project is to "combine advanced multimedia development with rigorous biological content." The project uses these media (pdf):
  • 3D animations of complex biological processes

  • 2D animations that illustrate sequential processes and the underlying chemistry

  • interactive tutorials

  • digital video clips that show important research techniques and interviews with scientists discussing the history, current use, and future directions of a given method
As Lue explains,
Biological knowledge is expanding at an incredible rate, but class time is not expanding to match. Instead of making things increasingly superficial in courses, which unfortunately is one of the approaches that could be taken, the idea behind Biovisions is to create teaching tools that will allow you to teach major concepts far more quickly than you could in a standard lecture using overheads or even slides.

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