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Assessing Student Understanding of the Visual Representation of the Voltaic Cell via the Three Phase Single Interview Technique

  • Author(s): Wu, Meng Yang Matthew
  • Advisor(s): Bussey, Thomas J
  • et al.

External representations of voltaic cells are readily found in undergraduate general chemistry textbooks. Like much of chemistry, electrochemistry requires that students develop and demonstrate a robust understanding of the particulate nature of chemical interactions; however, the voltaic cell is predominantly depicted at the macroscopic and symbolic levels of representation. Within the chemical education community, it is an accepted fact that all three levels of representation are required for a scientifically accurate construct of a given concept. Under the theoretical framework of variation theory, this study investigated the application of the 3 Phase Single Interview Technique to explore students' prior knowledge, their understandings of a common representation of a voltaic cell, and the relative importance students assign to submicroscopic levels of representation. Data was primarily collected through student interviews and student generated representations (N = 12) with a subsection utilizing eye tracking data in conjunction. This thesis reports that visual representations help cue students to reprioritize certain features of the voltaic cell, resulting in student generated representations that incorporate much greater macroscopic and symbolic representational features. However, a majority of the interviewed students, when cued to think at the submicroscopic level, do not include particulate features of the voltaic cells in their representations and demonstrate alternative conceptions with respect to electronic and ionic interactions within their understanding.

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