Learning Designs - Products of the AUTC project on ICT-based learning designs
Home | Guides (selected) | Tools | The Project | Search
  Observe, Represent, Refine


Setting Notes
ICT Contribution


Setting Notes


Preparing Learners


Learners require literacy with respect to scientific terms and symbolic standards and conventions. Learners also require collaborative skills to share their ideas and representations, ICT skills to develop their representations within the drawing tool, to view digital resources and to share their work within a discussion space.


Learners require experience in using criticism constructively in redeveloping representations.

Teacher Assistance

What guidelines and strategies are needed to assist teachers to successfully design such a learning setting for their own discipline area?

How to design tasks, how to build resources, how to create supports, existing models, and literature on the implementation example.

Designing Tasks: Tasks should be designed around recognised visual conventions and icons and should involve practice with multiple examples, possibly gaining in complexity. They should also be contained enough to be part of a short-term experience so that multiple examples can be reviewed.

Building Resources: The resources necessary to fully implement the design require production of quality video resources, probably best achieved through use of skilled video producers, etc; a drawing tool for students to represent their understanding of the processes is available for Chemistry, and this could be developed further.

Guidelines needed by Instructor

What guidelines are needed for the instructor that will assist in their successful delivery and implementation of such a learning design?

Tips for successful implementation, management strategies, guiding learners, problems to anticipate, contingencies.

It is essential that all students are encouraged to commit their representation to paper or via software. If students do not make this commitment there is no 'buy-in' to the process and their misconceptions are not exposed.

The design can be implemented at multiple levels:

In a lecture or tutorial situation using either a video demonstration or a specific demonstration and using pen and paper and peer and expert feedback. The expert review can be in the form of example representations on paper or overheads to compare with the student representation.

Online the process can be facilitated through the software tool, Molecular Level Construction Tool, for chemistry, while there are a range of other software tools for physics and biology, for example, to use to represent student understanding of non-visible processes.




The strategy used in this learning design is concept development and has been applied in various school and university chemistry classes. This learning design aims to assist students to:

  • develop a scientifically acceptable mental model of the ‘non-visible’ structures and processes responsible for the physical phenomenon being considered;
  • communicate the key features of this model in multiple ways using text and/or labelled diagrams with scientifically acceptable conventions, and later with symbolism and mathematics;
  • identify any misconceptions in their preconceived model used to explain the physical phenomenon; and
  • apply their refined model to new, but related, phenomena.

Note: there should be a range of domain-specific knowledge outcomes based on the discipline and associated physical phenomenon being considered.





Assessment of the non-visible visualisation skills developed in this design is essential to convince students that the effort is worthwhile, but it has not been built into the activity explicitly. It is assumed the skills will be assessed as part of quizzes, tests and examinations in the form of questions or problems which require drawing a representation of their mental model of the non-visible processs.

Additionally, students should be required to use the 'three-thinking-level" approach, and draw non-visible representations, in lab classes and in their reports for assessment.


One reason student misconceptions about the non-visible level are not detected at university is that questions rarely probe this level of understanding explicitly.

Student drawings and descriptions of their conceptions of structures and processes at the non-visible level often reveal misconceptions not detectable in conventional questions. Activity 3 in the learning design provides the opportunity for students to identify these misconceptions in their own representation, or those of their peers. Experience suggests this is more effective than presenting a list of common misconceptions.


ICT Contribution



The design could be implemented with very little technology. If presented through mass lecture mode, the only essential tool is the representation of a well-accepted view as an animation or visual as a media element. The rest of the process can be implemented without technology. However, technology would allow the process to be implemented online. In this case, the technology to be included would comprise of:

  1. A media representation (video/audio) of the physical phenomenon.
  2. A drawing tool for learners to represent the phenomenon at non-visible level using acceptable drawing/icon conventions.
  3. A mechanism for learners to share and review their representations (e.g. online discussion space).
  4. An expert representation in the form of a digital media element (e.g. animation/video) with audio description which is made available after the first observation (i.e. video or animation without audio).
  5. Editing tools within drawing tool to allow opportunities for students to communicate their models of the non-visible world in lab reports and tests.


ICT allows use of a drawing/evaluation tool to enable students to practise producing non-visible-level representations, and obtain specific feedback on these, and then to compare them with acceptable representations, without requiring input by an instructor. This is essential in large first-year classes.


  Top of Page Home