A theory of multisensory learning for IR visualization of hands-on experiments

July 1st, 2011 by Charles Xie

I have been "shopping" for a learning theory that can frame the value added by IR visualization to hands-on experiments. Here is a candidate theory.

There are four learning pathways to the brain: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. Theory has it that memory and learning could be enhanced if multiple learning pathways are utilized simultaneously.

Let's look at a notorious misconception in heat and temperature. Many people believe that metals are colder than wood or paper. This misconception cannot be easily dispelled because that is how they feel through the sense of touch. As heat transfer is invisible, the tactile experience is all they have.

Now, what if the heat transfer process can be visualized? In other words, what if students have multisensory learning experience: they feel and see it at the same time? IR imaging has enabled us to design such an experiment. The image above shows an IR view that compares heat flow through paper and metal from hands.

Recent studies from Swedish scholars including Konrad J. Schönborn, whom I ran into at a conference and who was enticed by my IR magic, showed that adding haptics to visualization could improve student learning of biomolecular interactions such as docking. Visual and tactile sensorimotor interactions could enhance the cognitive process. Or, in this case, the visualization could "correct" the erroneous idea tangibly gained. The IR visualization shows that the metal is actually warmer than the paper, creating a contradiction with the tactile input that students must reconcile. 

Konrad said he would investigate this through a cognitive experiment with students from his University in Sweden. I was psyched. This is complementary to what he has done. In this case, visualization augments touch--exactly opposite to his prior research on molecular binding in which case haptics augments visualization.

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