Research Questions

  • How do various visual treatments of a random molecular walk influence students’ understanding of molecular behaviour?
  • Do attention cueing strategies cause confusion or improve clarity when demonstrating random walks?
  • Does the presence of a complex molecular environment enhance or detract from students’ ability to follow and understand molecular motion?


Jenkinson, J., Jantzen, S., Gauthier, A., and McGill, G. (2016). The effect of attention cueing in molecular animation to communicate random motion. In  Désiron, Berney, Bétrancourt, & Tabbers (Eds.), Learning from Text and Graphics in a World of Diversity (pp. 96-98). Geneva: EARLI SIG. (PDF)


  • We asked students three multiple choice pre-test questions, showed them one visual treatment, and asked five post-test questions
  • Students had similar responses to the test questions regardless of visual treatment they were exposed to
  • A focus group revealed new facets to misconceptions about agency and randomness
  • The treatment with no overlay was still capable of suggesting a random walk to students

An assessment of strategies for depicting random molecular walks


Project Summary

This project aims to determine how undergraduate biology students learn from computer animated visualizations of molecular environments, specifically the random nature of molecular movement driven by collisions with other molecules. In total, five different visualization strategies were created to depict the random walks of molecules. Attempts were made to maintain the importance of the crowded molecular environment, which is treated consistently across the conditions. Initial assessments of the conditions involved students responding to multiple choice questions before and after viewing the animation with iClicker technology. Questions dealt with topics of randomness, speed, intent, and clarity. Data was gathered completely anonymously and responses can be compared across conditions.

Treatment A: No Overlay

This condition shows only the molecular motion, highlighting the two molecules that bind together.

Treatment B: Linear path

This condition shows a visualization of the path travelled by the red and blue molecules.

Treatment C: Velocity Vector Arrows

This condition maps the velocity of the red and blue molecules over time

Treatment D: Onion Skinning

This condition shows a visualization of area visited by the red and blue molecules.

Treatment E: Heat Map

This condition shows a visualization of the positions occupied by the red and blue molecules over time.

Note: Online video compression degrades the quality of complex, fast-moving media. The original video files can be downloaded from each Vimeo page by clicking Download and then Original.


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