Using VR for PyMol in an ActiveCube

Keele University Completes Study Proving the Effectiveness of 3D in Learning


A recent review concluded that until now there was no robust data supporting the pedagogical effectiveness of technology for 3D visualisation, making an assessment of this technology desirable.  At Virtalis we felt we knew the answer, but we wanted to know for sure…

Understanding the molecular nature of pharmaceutical interactions requires an appreciation of the 3D structure of both molecules, and their relative orientation when they bind.  Keele University investigated whether introducing students to these concepts using a 3D representation of drug-receptor interactions improved their understanding.  Keele has an ActiveCube and uses our VR-enabled PyMOL software.


The overarching intended learning outcome of the teaching session was to increase students’ ability to explain the molecular basis of the interaction between drugs and their targets, as well as mechanisms by which proteins carry out their biological function.
The students were randomly assigned to one of two groups and both given similar presentations to meet these learning outcomes.  In both cases, the structures (-adrenoceptor bound to various ligands, the Na+K+-ATPase bound to ouabain and the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor) were presented using PyMOL.  The presentation was given to half of the students in a lecture theatre using a 2D projection of PyMOL (“2D group”, 49 students) whereas the other group of students saw the same presentation but in 3D in the ActiveCube (“3D group”, 40 students) in five groups of eight.
The ability of the two groups of students to solve problems that required consideration of molecular interactions in 3D was then compared.

The Results were Impressive

The group which had been exposed to the teaching presentation in 3D performed significantly better in the test than the group which had viewed the teaching presentation in 2D.  The enthusiasm for the subject demonstrated by the students exposed to the 3D virtual environment was also increased.  We, at Virtalis, are not surprised, but it is gratifying to having our beliefs confirmed formally.

To Keele’s knowledge, this study represents the first analytical demonstration that 3D presentation of drug-receptor interactions improves student learning.

Figure Legends
Figure 1   Evaluation of exposure to a 3-D learning environment with an analytical test.

Students were provided with a teaching presentation in 2D (“2D”, 49 students) or 3D (“3D”, 40 students).  Following the teaching sessions, students took a test comprising 10 questions to evaluate their ability to solve problems requiring analytical thinking in three dimensions.  The chart shows the percentage of students from each group that obtained the correct answer for each question.  Comparison of the results from the 2D and 3D groups showed that students who experienced the 3D teaching presentation performed better in the analytical test (Mann-Whitney test, P < 0.05).  The groups were otherwise academically closely matched.

Figure 2   Evaluation of exposure to a 3-D learning environment with a questionnaire.

Students were asked to complete a questionnaire indicating whether using the ActiveCube had improved their understanding of drug-receptor interactions, the function of receptors, transporters, enzymes and transcription factors; whether the ActiveCube had increased their enthusiasm for the course; whether they enjoyed the visit to the ActiveCube and whether they felt confident that they could apply what they had learned to other drugs or drug targets. The chart shows the students response (mean ± S.D.) to each question.  Of 89 students, a total of 68 (76%) completed the questionnaire and there were no missing data for any question.

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