Timelines or time cycles: Exposure to different spatial representations of time shapes sketching and diagram preferences


Visual representations of information are prevalent in many academic domains, and students must learn how to interpret and use these visual representations. How do students acquire this representational competence? Past work has focused on the role of explicit instruction. In this work, we consider another route for acquiring representational competence in the domain of biology. We argue that students develop representational competence with diagrams based on experience with diagrams with specific features. In two studies (Study 1 N = 161, Study 2 N = 195), we presented undergraduates with a lesson on metamorphosis with either a linear or circular depiction of the ladybug life cycle, two common arrangements for this type of diagram. We then assessed students’ life cycle drawings and their preferences for different features of life cycle diagrams. This brief exposure to diagrams with a particular feature led to changes in participants’ self-constructed diagrams and in their preferences for the specific diagrammatic features to which they were exposed. Our studies suggest that people develop representational competence, at least in part, by tracking the features present in the visualizations they see in their environments.

Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 1-19
David Menendez
David Menendez
Assistant Professor

My research interests include cognitive development, diagrams, and STEM education