A mixed-method study was conducted to compare expert and novice use of animations through collection of eye-tracking data and tests of conceptual understanding. Chemistry expertise level was based upon experience in chemistry, ranging from undergraduate general chemistry to graduate level chemistry students. Subjects were asked to view two one-minute particulate-level animations of oxidation-reduction and double-displacement reactions while eye tracking hardware and software determined subjects areas of visual focus. These data suggest differential eye-tracking patterns for experts and novice viewing animations, with experts spending significantly more time focusing in areas of conceptual interest, and viewing a larger number of features of interest than do novices. A second study was conducted to investigate the impacts of viewing chemistry animations on novice conceptual understanding. Students viewed one one-minute particulate-level animation of an oxidation-reduction reaction as part of a general chemistry lecture course. Students were divided into two sections, and viewed either the original animation, or a modified animation in which conceptually important areas of the animation were visually highlighted to direct user visual attention. Subjects completed two tests of conceptual understanding, one immediately prior to animation viewing, and one immediately after animation viewing. All students scored significantly higher on the posttest instrument, with subjects viewing the modified animation scoring significantly higher than those viewing the original animation. Results of this study suggest that novice students do not view particulate-level chemistry animations in the same way that expert chemists view the animations. While viewing animations in general may contribute to student conceptual understanding, viewing animations modified to draw student visual attention directly to areas of conceptual importance may make up for a lack of expertise in chemistry, and provide the greatest opportunities for conceptual learning gains.
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