Student Understanding of DNA Structure–Function Relationships Improves from Using 3D Learning Modules with Dynamic 3D Printed Models

Michelle E. Howell, Christine S. Booth, Sharmin M. Sikich, Tomáš Helikar, Rebecca L. Roston, Brian A. Couch, Karin van Dijk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Understanding the relationship between molecular structure and function represents an important goal of undergraduate life sciences. Although evidence suggests that handling physical models supports gains in student understanding of structure–function relationships, such models have not been widely implemented in biochemistry classrooms. Three-dimensional (3D) printing represents an emerging cost-effective means of producing molecular models to help students investigate structure–function concepts. We developed three interactive learning modules with dynamic 3D printed models to help biochemistry students visualize biomolecular structures and address particular misconceptions. These modules targeted specific learning objectives related to DNA and RNA structure, transcription factor-DNA interactions, and DNA supercoiling dynamics. We also designed accompanying assessments to gauge student learning. Students responded favorably to the modules and showed normalized learning gains of 49% with respect to their ability to understand and relate molecular structures to biochemical functions. By incorporating accurate 3D printed structures, these modules represent a novel advance in instructional design for biomolecular visualization. We provide instructors with the materials necessary to incorporate each module in the classroom, including instructions for acquiring and distributing the models, activities, and assessments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-317
Number of pages15
JournalBiochemistry and Molecular Biology Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2019



  • 3D printing
  • DNA
  • RNA
  • model-based learning
  • molecular visualization
  • nucleic acid structure and function
  • student misconceptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology

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