Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.10, 640-645
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 Sci R e s .
Fostering Pre-Service Teacher Trainees’ Understanding of
Membrane Transport with Interactive Computer Animations
Animesh K. Mohapatra
Regional Institute of Education (NCERT), Bhubaneswar, India
Email: akmrie01@y
Received June 8th, 2013; revised July 8th, 2013; accepted July 15th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Animesh K. Mohapatra. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Com-
mons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, pro-
vided the original work i s p roperly cited.
Educators often struggle when teaching various membrane transport processes because typically they
have only two-dimensional tools to teach something that plays out in four dimensions. Research has
demonstrated that visualizing processes in three dimensions aids learning, and animations are effective
visualization tools for learners and aid with long-term retention. The purpose of this study was to explore
how far the use of computer animations in membrane transport instruction can contribute to pre-service
teacher trainees’ understanding of concepts and processes in membrane functions. Two comparable
groups of first year pre-service teacher trainees participated: The control group (30 trainees) was taught in
the traditional lecture format, while the experimental or animation group (32 trainees) received instruc-
tions which were integrated with computer animations. Four instruments were designed and used in the
study: a closed form statement based questionnaire, a multiple choice questionnaire, an open ended ques-
tionnaire and personal interview. Analysis of the pre-test and post-test results showed that the experimen-
tal group had significantly higher scores than the control group. This trend was also reflected in personal
interviews. This clearly indicates that computer animations have deepened the understanding of various
concepts and processes of membrane transport of experimental group teacher trainees compared to that of
control group. On the basis of these findings, it is concluded that animations can provide learners with ex-
plicit dynamic information that is either implicit or unavailable in static graphics. Therefore, it is recom-
mended that the use of computer animation, a type of instructional mode which is capable of transforming
students from passive receptacles of knowledge into active learners, should be used to teach Biology.
Keywords: Pre-Service Teacher Trainees; Computer Animation; Cell Membrane; Membrane Transport;
Passive Transport; Active Transport; Osmosis and Diffusion
Improving science achievement through the use of more ef-
fective instructional strategies, promoting the active role of the
learner, and promoting the facilitative role of the teacher have
long been an aspiration of science educators. The effective
teachers use a diversity of methods and approaches to assist
their students in the learning process. The common teaching
methods preferred by the biology teachers are the lecture
method and question-and-answer approach. In these traditional
teaching methods, the teacher transmits the information and the
students have been the passive recipient of information. This
information could be delivered more effectively by using mul-
timedia (Barnett et al., 1996; Ramsden, 1996; O’Hagan, 1997;
Sneddon et al., 2001). Various multimedia tools are currently
used by many instructors to communicate difficult topics and
concepts to their students in meaningful ways. One area of
multimedia showing rapid development is the animation or
visual representation.
Visual representations play a critical role in the communica-
tion of science concepts (Ametller & Pinto, 2002; Mathewson,
1999; Patrick et al., 2005). Numerous studies have focused on
the benefit of using visual representations to communicate
concepts in the classroom setting (Schnotz & Kulhavy, 1994;
Van Sommeren et al., 1998). In the science classroom, these
graphics are especially helpful when representing phenomena
that learners cannot observe or experience directly (Buckley,
2000; Hegarty et al., 1991). Since many students depend on
their senses to learn, teaching the invisible and abstract con-
cepts in biology would be difficult without visuals. For this
reason, visual representations aid in making abstract concepts
more concrete. Visual representations also are preferred for
displaying multiple relationships and processes that are difficult
to describe with text alone.
The concepts of transport across cell membrane i.e. diffusion,
osmosis and active transport are very important for biology
students for sound understanding of the functioning of the cell.
Diffusion is the primary method of short distance transport in
cells and cellular systems. Osmosis is used to explain water
uptake by plants, turgor pressure in plants, water balance in
aquatic creatures and transport in living organisms (Odom,
1995). On the other hand, active transport is the movement of
molecules against concentration gradient across membrane
which maintains the homeostasis in the body. Unfortunately
students find these topics very difficult to understand (Friedler
et al., 1987) and several biology education researchers have
reported student misconceptions associated with these topics
(Marek, 1986; Zuckerman, 1994; Odom & Barrow, 1995). One
reason why students may have difficulty with the concepts of
diffusion, osmosis and active transport is that these concepts
require students to visualize and think about chemical processes
at the molecular level (Johnstone & Mahmoud, 1980; Friedler
et al., 1987; Westbrook & Marek, 1991). Studies have shown
that instruction involving computer animations can facilitate the
students thinking about chemical processes at the molecular
level (Williamson & Abraham, 1995; Russel et al., 1997;
Sanger & Greenbowe, 1997).
Purpose of Study
The purpose of this study was to explore the effectiveness of
computer animations in promoting understanding of dynamic
processes involved in membrane transport i.e. diffusion, osmo-
sis and active transport.
Membrane transport is selected for this study because:
Diffusion, osmosis and active transport are key to under-
standing many important life processes.
Previous studies have indicated biology students have dif-
ficulty in learning diffusion, osmosis and active transport
and more effective teaching strategies are needed.
A total of 62 pre-service teacher trainees enrolled in B. Sc. B.
Ed. Part-I biological science of Regional Institute of Education,
Bhubaneswar formed the sample for the study. They were ran-
domly segregated into two groups: the control group (30 train-
ees) and experimental; group (32 trainees). A test was con-
ducted to verify the comparability of knowledge on membrane
transport of the two groups. The control group trainees were
exposed to the content through conventional teaching methods,
using a teacher centered strategy or lecture method involving
“chalk and talk”. The trainees of experimental group were
taught in the same traditional lecture format but integrated with
computer animation activities.
Four research instruments were used in this study: 1) a
closed form questionnaire in the form of statements designed
and used to examine the ideas on membrane transport. Trainees
were asked to respond by ticking boxes labeled “Agree”, “No
idea” and “Disagree”. There are fifteen statements in the ques-
tionnaire of which eight are scientifically acceptable and seven
are scientifically unorthodox interspersed at random, 2) a mul-
tiple choice written questionnaire (MCQ) containing twenty
questions with four possible answers for each question (a-d), 3)
an open ended written questionnaire (OEQ) containing ten
questions and 4) another open ended questionnaire of three
questions used for personal interview.
Trainees were asked to answer the open ended questionnaire
first and after that multiple choice and statement based closed
form questionnaires were given. Multiple choice and open
ended questionnaires were used for both pre-test i.e. before
teaching and post-test i.e. after teaching for both control and
experimental groups. The questions in the MCQ and OEQ were
grouped under two main categories:
1) Questions dealing with the structure of cell membrane.
2) Questions dealing with the molecular processes of diffu-
sion, osmosis and active transport.
Response to Statement Based Closed Form
The pre-service teacher trainees’ ideas on cell membrane and
membrane transport are shown in Figures 1 and 2. About two-
third trainees (68%) affirmed that in cell membrane phosphol-
ipid molecules are arranged in two layers and proteins are em-
bedded in a discontinuous mosaic pattern and four-fifth (79%)
were confident about the occurrence of diffusion in all three
states of matter. However, majority of the trainees were not
knowing that charged and polar solutes move across the mem-
brane with the help of channel or transporter proteins (68%)
that transporter proteins involved in facilitated diffusion un-
dergo conformational change upon binding of solute to it, thus
exposing the solute to the other side of the membrane (62%),
that potential energy stored in ionic gradients is utilized by a
cell to transport another solute from its lower concentration to
higher concentration (77%), and that diffusion takes place in
both direction (63%). Surprisingly, only half of the trainees
correctly believed that active transport helps in generating steep
concentration gradient of ions across cell membrane (52%) and
that water moves readily through a semipermeable membrane
Figure 1.
Trainees’ responses to scientifically acceptable statements on mem-
brane transport.
Figure 2.
Trainees’ responses to scientifically unorthodox statements on mem-
brane transport.
Copyright © 2013 Sci R e s. 641
from a region of lower solute concentration to a region of
higher solute concentration (58%).
Majority of the trainees showed very low level of under-
standing about membrane transport. They thought that phos-
pholipid molecules in the membrane are immobile (88%), that a
cell placed in an isotonic solution maintains a constant volume
as no water movement occurs (92%), that ATP energy is re-
quired for facilitated diffusion (74%), that rate of diffusion is
inversely proportional to the temperature of the medium and
directly proportional to the molecular weight of the diffusing
molecules (82%), that lipid bilayer allows random movement of
water soluble materials into and out of the cell (85%), and that
Na+/K+ ion exchange pumps maintain high concentration of K+
ions outside and Na+ ions inside of the cell (53%). Maximum
trainees could not differentiate between concentration gradient
and electrochemical gradient (80%).
Results of Pre-Test and Post-Test of Multiple Choice
and Open-Ended Questionnaires
In the pre-test, the average score was 28.7 for control group
and 29.2 for experimental groups in the multiple choice ques-
tionnaires, while mean score for open-ended questionnaire was
23.8 and 25.2 for control group and experimental group respec-
tively. Comparison of results of pre-test revealed that there is
no significant difference amongst the trainees of control and
experimental groups. Therefore, the two groups could be
treated as comparable groups.
The results of the post-test for multiple choice questionnaires
are shown in Figure 3. The average score was higher (88.6) for
experimental group than the control group (63.4). Analysis of
trainees’ answers to the open-ended questionnaire showed simi-
larity to the findings from the multiple choice questionnaires,
the average score of the experimental group was 83.7 differed
significantly from that of the control group i.e. 57.3 (Figure 4).
The post-test results clearly indicated that the trainees of the
experimental group have developed better understanding of the
membrane transport than the trainees of the control group.
Analysis of Sub-Topi cs
As mentioned in the methodology, the questions in both mul-
tiple choice and open-ended questionnaires could be grouped
under two categories of subtopics:
1) Structure of cell membrane.
2) Molecular processes of diffusion, osmosis and active
Comparable scores regarding the multiple choice questions
and open-ended questions for both categories of trainees are
shown in Figures 5 and 6.
1) Structure of cell membrane. A total of eight questions in
the two questionnaires (five in multiple choice questionnaire
and three in open-ended questionnaire) were grouped under this
subtopic. These questions focused on the arrangement of lipids
and proteins in the membrane and their nature. Inspection of the
average scores of the multiple choice questions (Figure 5) con-
cerning this subtopic showed that the average scores of trainees
of experimental group was 23.4 while that of trainees of control
group was 19.1. The same pattern occurred with the scores of
the open-ended questions of this subtopic (Figure 5) in which
trainees of the experimental group scored (26.2) higher than the
trainees of control group (18.6).
Pre-test Post-test Pre-test Post-test
Control groupExperimental group
Figure 3.
Average scores of the pre-test and post-test for the multiple choice
Pre-test Post-test Pre-test Post-test
Control groupExperimental group
Figure 4.
Average scores of the pre-test and post-test for the open-ended ques-
Molecular Processes
Control Experimental
Control Experimental
(a) (b)
Figure 5.
Average scores for questions related to subtopic (a) and subtopic (b) of
the multiple choice questionnaire.
2) Molecular processes of diffusion, osmosis and active
transport. A total twenty two questions in the two question-
naires were concerned with the molecular processes of mem-
brane transport. Inspection of the average scores in the multiple
choice questions (Figure 6) dealing with molecular processes
showed a similar pattern to the one found in the first subtopic:
the average scores of the experimental group (65.2) was sig-
nificantly higher than the average scores for the control group
(44.3). Results of open-ended questions also revealed similar
significant difference amongst the trainees of experimental
Copyright © 2013 Sci Res.
Control Experimental
Molecular processes
(a) (b)
Figure 6.
Average scores for questions related to subtopic (a) and subtopic (b) of
the multiple choice questionnaire.
group (57.5) and control group (38.7).
A summary of the findings concerning the two subtopics
showed that the average scores of open-ended questions were
lower than the multiple choice questions, for both groups. It
seems that it was easier for trainees to choose correct answer to
the multiple choice questions than to articulate correct re-
sponses to the open-ended questions.
Personal Interviews of Trainees of Experimental
In the individual interviews, when trainees of experimental
group were asked: Did the integration of computer animations
help you in achieving better understanding of the membrane
transport? All the trainees gave a positive answer and showed
high level of confidence and satisfaction. We could visualize
the exact arrangement of phospholipids, cholesterols and pro-
teins in the membrane and the movement of phospholipid
molecules. One trainee said: I was not clear during my board
examination that how the molecules pass through tightly
packed phospholipids bilayer and through the protein channels.
Now it is very clear to me because of animation activities. An-
other trainee said: I was taught and also written in the book that
the transporter proteins in the membrane undergo conforma-
tional change during transport of molecules. I was unable to
imagine what this conformational change is but now I am clear.
Most of the interviewees said: We could visualize the exact
mechanism of Na+/K+ ion exchange pumps and differences
between primary and secondary active transport. Another inter-
view question was: Do you think membrane transport is a dif-
ficult topic? No, said almost all interviewees.
The findings that were gathered through the multiple choice
questionnaire, open-ended questionnaire and individual inter-
views indicated that integration of computer animations in the
instruction of membrane transport could enhance trainees’
achievement of experimental group.
A basic understanding of the functioning of cell membrane is
essential for a sound understanding of the functioning of cell in
living organisms. The pre-test results of the present study
clearly showed poor understanding of the processes of mem-
brane transport indicated by several misconceptions prevailing
in the mind of pre-service teacher trainees. Majority of the
trainees thought that phospholipid molecules do not exhibit any
movement, that volume of a cell remains unchanged when
placed in an isotonic solution because of no movement of water
across the membrane, that ATP energy is required for facili-
tated diffusion, that rate of diffusion is inversely proportional to
the temperature of the medium and directly proportional to the
molecular weight of the diffusing molecules, that water soluble
substances can pass through lipid bilayer and that Na+/K+ ion
exchange pumps maintain high concentration of Na+ inside of
the cell and high K+ ion concentration outside of the cell. It
seems membrane transport topic is very difficult to understand
(Friedler et al., 1987; Sanger et al., 2001) and several biology
education researchers have reported student misconceptions
associated with this topic (Marek, 1986; Zuckerman, 1994;
Odom & Barrow, 1995).
Investigations have revealed quite a number of reasons: one
is that some biology concepts are very difficult for teachers to
teach as well as for students to learn (Ige, 2001; Nzewi &
Osisioma, 1994; Okebukola, 1990; Orukotan, 1999). Several
studies have reported that this difficulty is due to abstract nature
of the concepts and the processes involved are not physically
observable (Abimbola, 1998; Locke & McDermid, 2005; Rich-
ards & Ponder, 1996; Snowden & Green, 1994; Turney, 1995).
Hence for better understanding of the concepts of membrane
transport, visualization of chemical processes at molecular level
is required (Johnstone & Mahmoud, 1980; Friedler et al., 1987;
Westerbrook & Marek, 1991).
From the post-test result of the present study, it was observed
that more trainees of the control group believed that in the proc-
esses of diffusion, particles move until equilibrium is reached
and then stop moving (item 20 of MCQ) than the experimental
group (65% versus 12.5%). Similarly, majority of the trainees
in the control group (90%) believed that there would be no
change in volume of RBCs when placed in an isotonic solution
as there would be no flow of water molecules in any direction
(item 8 in the MCQ) while trainees of experimental group
(81.2%) who viewed the animations correctly stated that flow
of water molecules in both direction is equal and there would
be no net gain or loss. In general, it appears that these anima-
tions were successful in helping trainees understand the dy-
namic nature of equilibrium processes which is a common and
persistent misconception exhibited by students in chemistry
classes as well (Gorodetsky & Gussarsky, 1986). Misconcep-
tions are very important during the learning processes of indi-
viduals. It is well known that it is not easy to eliminate the
misconceptions at least by employing traditional instructional
methods (Yenilmez & Tekkaya, 2006). One of the alternative
ways of overcoming this problem may be using computer as-
sistant materials in biology classrooms. In the present study,
computer animations provided better learning environments for
trainees to understand membrane transport with respect to con-
trol group.
The data analysis of the present study showed that the aver-
age score (88.6) of the experimental group was significantly
higher (p < .01) than the mean score (63.4) of the control group
in the multiple choice questions. Similarly, in case of open-
ended questions, the average score (83.7) of experimental group
was higher (p < .01) than the average score (57.3) of control
group. Analysis of the mean scores according to subtopics
showed that for both subtopics, the experimental group out-
scored the control group. It is noteworthy, that in the second
subtopic, i.e. molecular processes of diffusion, osmosis and
active transport, the average scores were comparatively low,
both for control group (44.3 for MCQ and 38.7 for OEQ) and
experimental group (65.2 for MCQ and 57.5 for OEQ) in com-
Copyright © 2013 Sci R e s. 643
parison to the average scores of control group (19.1 for MCQ
and 18.6) and experimental group (23.4 for MCQ and 26.2 for
OEQ) for first subtopic i.e. structural organization of the cell
membrane. This shows that the process part is harder for stu-
dents to understand than the structural part. Nevertheless, here
too, the computer animations significantly increased trainees’
understanding. As mentioned in the introduction, researchers
suggested that dynamic computer animation can be used to give
an accurate and rich picture of the dynamic nature of cellular
processes, which are often very difficult to understand from
text-based presentations of information (Rotbain et al., 2008).
Similar findings in life sciences have also been reported by
Stitch (2004), Mcclean et al. (2005) and O’Day (2006). Stitch
(2004) carried out a study in which, after a lecture on apoptosis,
one group of 31 students who viewed an animation on apop-
tosis was compared to a group of 27 students who did not.
While the students who saw the animation obtained signifi-
cantly higher test scores than those who didn’t, it can’t be ruled
out that the extra few minutes of exposure to the topic alone
could explain, at least in part, the improved grade. McClean et
al. (2005) used animations for teaching protein synthesis to one
group of students while another group of students were taught
without animations. The group viewing the animations obtained
significantly higher test scores than the group that didn’t. Wil-
liamson and Abraham (1995), who explored the effect of an-
imations on college chemistry students, found that instruction
with animations may increase conceptual understanding by
promoting the formation of dynamic mental models of the par-
ticulate nature of matter. In this type of instruction, animation
provided more scientifically correct visual models for sub-
microscopic processes.
In the individual interviews, trainees reported on three major
advantages of using computer animations. The first one is that
the animation activities helped the students to visualize the
abstract concepts and processes of membrane transport by rep-
resenting the topic in a concrete manner. Trainees said: “The
computer animations helped us very much. It demonstrated the
process, since we can’t really see it. It was like we c ould see it
in front of our eyes and visualize the processes”. The second
advantage that trainees raised was how this enables them to
work individually in their own time, to run the animation over
and over as much as they needed. Trainees commented: “it
helped me more than the le sson in the class, since I could run it
over and over as many times as I wanted”. Another advantage
trainees mentioned was the contribution of the activities to the
diversification of the lessons. Trainees said that the animation
activities “broke the routine” of the traditional lecture format.
They said that they enjoyed the activity very much and would
like to have such activities in other biology topics too. Similar
feed back of students have also been reported by Rotbain et al.
(2008) in their study while teaching molecular biology by using
computer animation.
The findings of the present study concerning the advantages
of animation activities over the traditional lecture method in
terms of learning the dynamic process accord with Schnotz and
Kulhavy (1994), Van Sommeren et al. (1998), Mathewson
(1999), Ametller and Pinto (2002), Kozma (2003) and Mar-
bach-Ad et al. (2008). An effective teaching makes student
more aware of their own knowledge and cognitive processes, as
well as aware of how compatible these processes were with a
given learning situation. Integration of computer animations
appeared to allow trainees to achieve this, compared with being
passive recipients of information as in lec tu re s.
Based on the results of this study, it is recommended that the
use of computer animation, a type of instructional strategy that
is capable of transforming students from passive receptacles of
information into active learners, should be used to teach biology
and other science subjects. Teachers are exposed to new and
emerging techniques that are relevant for the class room and
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