Enhancing undergraduate chemistry learning by helping students make connections among multiple graphical representations
Multiple representations are ubiquitous in chemistry education. To benefit from multiple representations, students have to make connections between them. However, connection making is a difficult task for students. Prior research shows that supporting connection making enhances students' learning in math and science domains. Most prior research has focused on supporting one type of connection-making process: conceptually making sense of connections among representations. Yet, recent research suggests that a second type of connection-making process plays a role in students' learning: perceptual fluency in translating among representations. I hypothesized that combining support for both conceptual sense making of connections and for perceptual fluency in connection making leads to higher learning gains in general chemistry among undergraduate students. I tested this hypothesis in two experiments with altogether N = 158 undergraduate students using an intelligent tutoring system for chemistry atomic structure and bonding. Results suggest that the combination of conceptual sense-making support and perceptual fluency-building support for connection making is effective for students with low prior knowledge, whereas students with high prior knowledge benefit most from receiving perceptual fluency-building support alone. This finding suggests that students' learning in chemistry can be enhanced if instruction provides support for connection making among multiple representations in a way that tailors to their specific learning needs.