AN EXAMINATION OF THE IMPACT OF COMPUTER-BASED ANIMATIONS AND VISUALIZATION SEQUENCE ON LEARNERS' UNDERSTANDING OF HADLEY CELLS IN ATMOSPHERIC CIRCULATION
Holliday, William G.
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Research examining animation use for student learning has been conducted in the last two decades across a multitude of instructional environments and content areas. The extensive construction and implementation of animations in learning resulted from the availability of powerful computing systems and the perceived advantages the novel medium offered to deliver dynamic representations of complex systems beyond the human perceptual scale. Animations replaced or supplemented text and static diagrams of system functioning and were predicted to significantly improve learners' conceptual understanding of target systems. However, subsequent research has not consistently discovered affordances to understanding, and in some cases, has actually shown that animation use is detrimental to system understanding especially for content area novices (Lowe 2004; Mayer et al. 2005). This study sought to determine whether animation inclusion in an authentic learning context improved student understanding for an introductory earth science concept, Hadley Cell circulation. In addition, the study sought to determine whether the timing of animation examination improved conceptual understanding. A quasi-experimental pretest posttest design administered in an undergraduate science lecture and laboratory course compared four different learning conditions: text and static diagrams with no animation use, animation use prior to the examination of text and static diagrams, animation use following the examination of text and static diagrams, and animation use during the examination of text and static diagrams. Additionally, procedural data for a sample of three students in each condition were recorded and analyzed through the lens of self regulated learning (SRL) behaviors. The aim was to determine whether qualitative differences existed between cognitive processes employed. Results indicated that animation use did not improve understanding across all conditions. However learners able to employ animations while reading and examining the static diagrams and to a lesser extent, after reading the system description, showed evidence of higher levels of system understanding on posttest assessments. Procedural data found few differences between groups with one exception---learners given access to animations during the learning episode chose to examine and coordinate the representations more frequently. These results indicated a new finding from the use of animation, a sequence effect to improve understanding of Hadley Cells in atmospheric circulation.