Purdue University Graduate School
20210728_Dissertation Thesis_Final_KW.pdf (33.59 MB)

Creation, deconstruction, and evaluation of a biochemistry animation about the role of the actin cytoskeleton in cell motility

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posted on 2021-07-28, 18:45 authored by Kevin WeeKevin Wee

External representations (ERs) used in science education are multimodal ensembles consisting of design elements to convey educational meanings to the audience. As an example of a dynamic ER, an animation presenting its content features (i.e., scientific concepts) via varying the feature’s depiction over time. A production team invited the dissertation author to inspect their creation of a biochemistry animation about the role of the actin cytoskeleton in cell motility and the animation’s implication on learning. To address this, the author developed a four-step methodology entitled the Multimodal Variation Analysis of Dynamic External Representations (MVADER) that deconstructs the animation’s content and design to inspect how each content feature is conveyed via the animation’s design elements.

This dissertation research investigated the actin animation’s educational value and the MVADER’s utility in animation evaluation. The research design was guided by descriptive case study methodology and an integrated framework consisting of the variation theory, multimodal analysis, and visual analytics. As stated above, the animation was analyzed using MVADER. The development of the actin animation and the content features the production team members intended to convey via the animation were studied by analyzing the communication records between the members, observing the team meetings, and interviewing the members individually. Furthermore, students’ learning experiences from watching the animation were examined via semi-structured interviews coupled with post- storyboarding. Moreover, the instructions of MVADER and its applications in studying the actin animation were reviewed to determine the MVADER’s usefulness as an animation evaluation tool.

Findings of this research indicate that the three educators in the production team intended the actin animation to convey forty-three content features to the undergraduate biology students. At least 50% of the student who participated in this thesis learned thirty-five of these forty-three (> 80%) features. Evidence suggests that the animation’s effectiveness to convey its features was associated with the features’ depiction time, the number of identified design elements applied to depict the features, and the features’ variation of depiction over time.

Additionally, one-third of the student participants made similar mistakes regarding two content features after watching the actin animation: the F-actin elongation and the F-actin crosslink structure in lamellipodia. The analysis reveals the animation’s potential design flaws that might have contributed to these common misconceptions. Furthermore, two disruptors to the creation process and the educational value of the actin animation were identified: the vagueness of the learning goals and the designer’s placement of the animation’s beauty over its reach to the learning goals. The vagueness of the learning goals hampered the narration scripting process. On the other hand, the designer’s prioritization of the animation’s aesthetic led to the inclusion of a “beauty shot” in the animation that caused students’ confusion.

MVADER was used to examine the content, design, and their relationships in the actin animation at multiple aspects and granularities. The result of MVADER was compared with the students’ learning outcomes from watching the animation to identify the characteristics of content’s depiction that were constructive and disruptive to learning. These findings led to several practical recommendations to teach using the actin animation and create educational ERs.

To conclude, this dissertation discloses the connections between the creation process, the content and design, and the educational implication of a biochemistry animation. It also introduces MVADER as a novel ER analysis tool to the education research and visualization communities. MVADER can be applied in various formats of static and dynamic ERs and beyond the disciplines of biology and chemistry.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Chemistry

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Angeline Lyon

Additional Committee Member 2

Roy Tasker

Additional Committee Member 3

Shalini Low-Nam

Additional Committee Member 4

Jamie Mohler

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