An Analysis of Graphical Representations in Electronic Science Textbooks
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Advances in publishing and changes in the format of instructional materials have dramatically changed how we view the traditional textbook. This study investigates the nature of graphical elements used in newly adopted electronic instructional materials for teaching high school physics in Texas and also determines to what extent the graphical elements used abide by research-based tenets for effective multimedia learning. A previously developed survey instrument for traditional textbooks was modified to accommodate more interactive graphical elements (e.g., simulations, image maps, animations, videos, etc.). Four hundred and five graphics from six resources were reviewed by two independent coders for the study. Analysis indicates that the digital materials reviewed range greatly in their use of graphical elements. Two of the resources contained few interactive elements, one of which was merely the publisher’s traditional text in PDF form. At the other end of the spectrum were two resources that contained virtually nothing but multimedia elements, leaving behind the domain of static graphics and fully taking advantage of the twenty-first century’s rich technological resources. The resources fared well regarding their adherence to accepted tenets of effective multimedia instruction. There was virtually no extraneous material presented in the resources, a positive step towards eliminating the production of teaching materials that attempt to engage students by entertaining them with background music or superfluous video files. Of concern were the digital texts that incorporated multimedia elements in a separate window or screen devoid of any text. Some of the resources contained print-based text materials that must be printed and referred to while interacting with the visual. This spatial disconnect between text and graphic raises serious concerns about educational/pedagogical value. With an ever-expanding tablet PC market one can easily predict an exponential number of electronic texts flooding the market and demanding attention. The six resources reviewed in this study varied greatly in the content and quality of their graphical elements, and schools should carefully consider whether the new electronic resources deliver sound pedagogical content or are just providing digital “eye candy” for today’s tech-savvy students.
Anderson, Sarah J (2014). An Analysis of Graphical Representations in Electronic Science Textbooks. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from