Assessment of visualisation skills in biochemistry students

  • Lindelani Mnguni Department of Science and Technology Education, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Konrad Schönborn Visual Information Technology and Applications (VITA), Department of Science and Technology, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
  • Trevor Anderson Visualization in Biochemistry Education (VIBE) Research Group, Department of Chemistry, University of Purdue, West Lafayette, Indiana, United States
Keywords: external representations, Rasch model, visual literacy


In the field of biochemistry, the use of external representations such as static diagrams and animations has increased rapidly in recent years. However, their effectiveness as instructional tools can be hindered if students lack the visual literacy and cognitive skills necessary for processing and interpreting such representations. We aimed to identify and assess visualisation skills necessary for effective processing of external representations in biochemistry. We used a modified Bloom’s taxonomy to identify the cognitive skills essential for optimal visual literacy, and designed probes based on those skills to develop a test instrument. Student responses to the probes were scored and processed with the Rasch model. This approach enabled us to rate the degree of difficulty of each visualisation skill on a linear logit scale, and to generate a person–item map to measure biochemistry students’ level of visual literacy. The results showed that the identified visualisation skills could be measured reliably, and the Rasch model was effective both for ranking the skills according to level of difficulty and for estimating a student’s relative level of visual literacy.

  • Addresses a recurring problem in biochemistry and similar fields.
  • Identifies relevant skills to inform teaching and learning in biochemistry.
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