Session S55b (Tuesday, 5:15pm, Willaman Gateway)

P614: Quantifying visual complexity of organic notation: Eye tracking evidence and validation of a rubric

Katherine Havanki, Diane Bunce (Catholic University of America, USA)

Reading structural formulas is a skill that students must master for success in organic chemistry. To read a structural formula, students first encode the visual elements in the formula, creating an internal representation.  Students then assign meaning and relationships to features in the formula.  Evidence from eye tracking studies suggests that the number of visual elements in formulas affects the initial encoding. The Complexity Rubric for Organic Chemistry Notation was developed as a way to quantify the number of visual elements in a structural formula.  This research assesses the validity of this rubric. A three-part study examines the content of the rubric, its capacity to measure visual complexity, and its ability to predict visual complexity as perceived by novices. A follow-up study investigates the effect of prior knowledge on the encoding of organic formulas, suggesting that knowledge from domains outside chemistry plays a role in how students process formulas.


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