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Using virtual laboratories in chemistry classrooms as interactive tools towards modifying alternate conceptions in molecular symmetry


Molecular symmetry plays a central role in chemistry education with regard to predicting chemical properties such as bonding and spectroscopic transitions. Better understanding of the symmetry of molecules requires high visual-spatial thinking ability. Conventional teaching methodologies, with limited teaching aides, fall short in providing a detailed understanding of scientific theories and related concepts. Incorrect understanding has been known to perpetrate concepts that are not consistent with the consensus of the research community or alternate conceptions. This work elaborates a methodology designed to discover the alternate conceptions stemming from teaching molecular symmetry in a typical classroom environment and the impact of the virtual laboratory (VL) environment in correcting these misconceptions. Three significant contributions presented in this paper include: (1) the development of a media and information-intense VL experiment platform designed to enhance understanding of symmetry elements and point groups of molecules with diverse structural geometries. (2) the development of an instrument, Molecular symmetry Alternate Conception Test (MACT), designed to capture and estimate the extent of alternate conceptions. (3) the successful identification of typical alternate conceptions amongst students in the context of molecular symmetry. In addition to perceived alternate concepts in symmetry education, the results indicate a significant statistical improvement of 156% in understanding of molecular symmetry concepts (p < 0.05) after subjecting students to the interactive VL platform. This study also shows identifying bond angles and planarity as concepts crucial for students. It is also implicit that estimations of discrimination skills related to identifying concept-based learning may be relevant for perceiving alternate concepts among learners.

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This work derives direction and ideas from the Chancellor of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi. This work was funded by Virtual Labs project, NMEICT, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India and by Embracing the World. Authors would like to thank the VALUE Virtual Labs team and CREATE team at Amrita in developing and deploying virtual laboratories.

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Correspondence to Shyam Diwakar.

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Achuthan, K., Kolil, V.K. & Diwakar, S. Using virtual laboratories in chemistry classrooms as interactive tools towards modifying alternate conceptions in molecular symmetry. Educ Inf Technol 23, 2499–2515 (2018).

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  • Molecular symmetry
  • Alternate conception
  • ICT
  • Symmetry operations
  • Virtual lab simulation
  • Web-based learning