Questionable Benefit of Visual and Peer Mediated Learning on Overall Learning Outcomes of a First-Year Physiology Course

Questionable Benefit of Visual and Peer Mediated Learning on Overall Learning Outcomes of a First-Year Physiology Course

Hardy Ernst, William T. McGahan, John Harrison
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/ijmbl.2015010103
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This paper reports on attempts to incorporate creative visual literacy, by way of student owned technology, and sharing of student-generated multimedia amongst peers to enhance learning in a first year human physiology course*. In 2013, students were set the task of producing an animated video, which outlined the pathogenesis of a chosen disease. Students were then encouraged to view each other's videos. Students in the same course in 2012 engaged in a purely written, non-shared task. The depth of topic understanding did not change between 2012 and 2013. Moderating for cohort variation, students in 2013 showed poorer overall learning outcomes** than students in the 2012 cohort. The authors speculate that the peer mediated aspect of the learning activity failed, and that the video task was disruptive to wider learning, due to it being time consuming and unfamiliar to students. * We refer to a “course” as a semester long program/unit of learning activities, around a specific subject, for which a grade and credit towards a degree is awarded upon successful completion. A full time study load at the University of Queensland typically involves four courses a semester. **By “learning outcomes” we refer in general terms to the knowledge and understanding of prescribed course content displayed by students through their scores for summative course assessment.
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The way in which university students engage with their typical course syllabus in the electronic age has changed dramatically (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada & Freeman, 2014). Among these changes, the digital environment enables a large potential for visual literacy as well as for peer mediated learning to be incorporated into the learning process (Brandon & Hollingshead, 1999; Dyson, 2012; McDonald & Hoban, 2009). This article explores the efficacy of attempts to introduce these concepts into the teaching of health sciences.

The concept of visual literacy has itself been the subject of much scholarship. In order to be visually literate, students are required to be proficient in their ability to identify the message behind a constructed image, as well as produce material with a visual component that conveys an intended message of its own (Avgerinou, 2009; Hattwig, Burgess, Bussert & Medaille, 2011; Metros, 2008). Adhering to this thought: if one were to consider a literate person as one who can interpret and convey meanings using language and its associated alphabet, then a visually literate person is one who can do the same with purely visual cues.

Much literature points toward the beneficial impact of visual literacy in education. Wakefield, Frawley, Dyson, Tyler and Litchfield (2011) trialled the use of student generated screencasts in an introductory accounting course. The authors suggest, “the screencast project facilitated higher student engagement and performance.” Wilson, Niehaus, White, Rasmussen and Kuchel (2009) set ecology students the task of making a short documentary that communicated the science behind an environmental issue, and found that the unique research and production process prompted additional learning. Rossetto and Chiera-Macchia (2011) report that student-generated graphic narratives, accompanied by Italian annotations, also help English-speaking students learn Italian as a second language. Furthermore, learners with low prior knowledge in a field, learn descriptive facts in that field better when they are presented alongside still and animated images (Chanlin, 1998). These findings would appear to support the notion that student generated visual texts, which explain the meaning behind concepts, aids the learning of those concepts.

Other studies provide insight into the value of visual communication specifically for higher education in biological and health sciences. Watson and Lom (2008) integrated an image portfolio assignment into their Developmental Biology course, with the aim of encouraging students to communicate using images. The authors report that the use of visual literacy to communicate scientific data “…stimulated confidence in the student’s own evaluations of current scientific literature to assess research conclusions.” Hall and O’Donnell (1996) set students the task of learning a body of content pertaining to the autonomic nervous system in either the form of a knowledge map or a 1500 word passage, and tested both groups on the content two days afterward. Students who had learned from the knowledge map not only displayed better recall, but reported having better concentration and motivation around the test as well. Thus, visual literacy seems specifically relevant to health science education.

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