The Role of Interactive Digital Simulations in Student Conversations About Visualizing Molecules



Chemistry education, collaborative learning, multi-media based learning, Educational technology, virtual manipulatives, visualization, SoTL, spatial reasoning, student attitudes,


The visualization of chemical compounds in three-dimensions is a foundational skill in the study and practice of chemistry and related fields, and one which has the potential to be supported by interaction with virtual models. Here, we present a collaborative learning activity piloted in first-year chemistry which investigates if inquiry-driven interactive technology can contribute meaningfully to student conversations around this topic, and how students’ conversations and practices may shift when driven by feedback from an interactive simulation. Our initial observations from this pilot project suggest that students engaged in collaborative sense-making and discussion around key ideas throughout this activity. Students’ post-activity reflections also highlighted their positive experiences and increased confidence with the topic afterwards. The unique dynamics of these interactions lead us to propose a novel framing of interactive visualizations as participants rather than merely as resources in student learning conversations.

Author Biographies

Yuen-ying Carpenter, University of Calgary

Instructor, Department of Chemistry

Erin Rae Sullivan, University of Calgary

Instructor, Department of Chemistry