Research Questions

  • What are the specific ideas and misconceptions students may have about molecular motion and diffusion?
  • How confident are students about the conceptions they have?
  • Do different groups of students (e.g. first-years vs third-years) have different conceptions?


  • We received complete surveys from 775 first, second, and third year students enrolled in a biology course
  • High proportions of students held misconceptions about molecular motion and diffusion
  • We are refining the survey and pursuing further rounds of data collection

Examining student conceptions regarding molecular motion and interaction


Screen capture of an online adaptive multiple choice test:
Screen capture of an online adaptive multiple choice test:

Project summary

In follow-up to previous investigations about student understanding of molecular environments and behaviours, we set out to create a survey that would assess understanding in fine detail. We identified very specific ideas about molecular motion and diffusion that students may have misunderstanding about.

We organized the questions into a tree structure, such that if a student answered a question in a particular way, this participant might be presented with a question that would not be visited by a student answering differently. We also wished to assess the confidence students had in these responses on a scale from 0 (no basis for response) to 100 (absolutely certain).

We presented this survey in a web-based format to three undergraduate biology courses (Bio152, Bio206, and Bio372). We included a validated science literacy component before the molecular survey to account for potential differences in general science knowledge. After filtering out incomplete or unusable data, we had 775 full tree traversals that demonstrated students’ understanding. Science literacy was very high overall (8.9/10).

Higher confidence seemed to be correlated with questions about topics directly addressed (or seemingly addressed) in their classes, but were not more likely to be answered correctly.

We developed a data visualization using D3 to show each individual student’s progress through the tree, along with the class they were enrolled in and the average confidence for that response.


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