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Does the Nature of Science Influence College Students' Learning of Biological Evolution?

Title: Does the Nature of Science Influence College Students' Learning of Biological Evolution?.
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Name(s): Butler, Wilbert, Jr., author
Southerland, Sherry, professor directing dissertation
Davis, Frederick, outside committee member
Gallard, Alejandro, committee member
Stallins, Jon, committee member
School of Teacher Education, degree granting department
Florida State University, degree granting institution
Type of Resource: text
Genre: Text
Issuance: monographic
Date Issued: 2009
Publisher: Florida State University
Place of Publication: Tallahassee, Florida
Physical Form: computer
online resource
Extent: 1 online resource
Language(s): English
Abstract/Description: Evolutionary theory is considered by many to be an important cornerstone to the entire discipline to biology. Despite its recognized importance by biologists, public understanding of evolution is considered to be woefully lacking. There is a robust and diverse research literature that addresses teaching and learning issues in evolution education. This research has been reviewed and summarized several times highlighting important insights gained from existing work (see for example Alters & Nelson, 2002; Demastes-Southerland, Trowbridge, & Cummins, 1992; Rowe, 1998; Smith, Siegel, & McInerney, 1995). Despite the volume of research on evolution education and the progress that has been made in describing some of the barriers to effectively teaching and learning it, evolutionary biology remains a problematic area for science education (Hammer & Polnick, 2007; Wenglinsky & Silverstein, 2007). This quasi-experimental, mixed-methods study assessed the influence of the nature of science (NOS) instruction on college students' learning of biological evolution. In this research, conducted in two introductory biology courses, in each course the same instruction was employed, with one important exception: in the experimental section students were involved in an explicit, reflective treatment of the nature of science (Explicit, reflective NOS), in the traditional treatment section, NOS was implicitly addressed (traditional treatment). In both sections, NOS aspects of science addressed included is tentative, empirically based, subjective, inferential, and based on relationship between scientific theories and laws. Students understanding of evolution, acceptance of evolution, and understanding of the nature of science were assessed before, during and after instruction. Data collection entailed qualitative and quantitative methods including Concept Inventory for Natural Selection (CINS), Measure of Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution (MATE) survey, Views of nature of Science (VNOS-B survey), as well as interviews, classroom observations, and journal writing to address understand students' views of science and understanding and acceptance of evolution. The quantitative data were analyzed via inferential statistics and the qualitative data were analyzed using grounded theory. The data analysis allowed for the construction and support for four assertions: Assertion 1: Students engaged in explicit and reflective NOS specific instruction significantly improved their understanding of the nature of science concepts. Alternatively, students engaged in instruction using an implicit approach to the nature of science did not improve their understanding of the nature of science to the same degree. The VNOS-B results indicated that students in the explicit, reflective NOS class showed the better understanding of the NOS after the course than students in the implicit NOS class. The increased understanding of NOS demonstrated by students in the explicit, reflective NOS class compared to students in the implicit NOS class can be attributed to the students' engagement in explicit and reflective NOS instruction that was absent in the implicit NOS class. Post VNOS results from students in the explicit, reflective NOS class showed marked improvement in the targeted aspects of NOS (empirical nature of scientific knowledge, inferential nature of scientific knowledge, subjective nature of scientific knowledge, the distinction between scientific law and theory, and the tentative nature of scientific knowledge) compared to the result of the pretest while the scores of students in the implicit NOS class demonstrated little change. Assertion 2: Students in the explicit, reflective NOS class section made greater gains in their understanding of evolution than students in the traditional class. The explicit, reflective NOS class demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in their understanding of biological evolution after the course, while the changes observed in the implicit NOS group were not found to be statistically significant--this despite that the manner in which evolution was taught was held constant across the two sections. Thus, the explicit, reflective NOS approach to the teaching of biological evolution seems to be more effective than many discussed in the literature in supporting student learning about evolution. Assertion 3: The conceptual gains by students in the explicit, reflective NOS course section were allowed by the affective "room" that a sophisticated understanding of the nature of the nature of science provides in a classroom. The data collected from this study collectively indicate that a sophisticated understanding of NOS allows students to recognize the boundaries of science. We argue that an explicit and reflective engagement of the NOS aspects helps the students understand the defining aspects of science better. Assertion #4: A change in students' understanding of evolution does not necessitate a change in students' acceptance of evolution. The results showed that students engaged in explicit and reflective NOS specific instruction significantly improved their understanding of NOS concepts and the understanding of evolution. However, there was not a significant change in acceptance of evolution related to the change in understanding These results demonstrate that the nature of science instruction plays an important role in the teaching and learning of biological evolution. Nevertheless, this NOS instruction must be explicit and reflective in nature. Students that engage explicitly and reflectively on specific tenets of NOS not only developed a better understanding of the NOS aspects but also a better understanding of biological evolution. Therefore, science teachers in elementary, middle, secondary and post-secondary education should consider implementing an explicit, reflective approach to the nature of science into their science curriculum not only for teaching evolution but for other controversial topics as well.
Identifier: FSU_migr_etd-2415 (IID)
Submitted Note: A Dissertation Submitted to the School of Teacher Education in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Degree Awarded: Spring Semester, 2009.
Date of Defense: December 4, 2008.
Keywords: Evolution, Nature of Science, Understanding of Evolution, Evolution Education, Theory, Evolutionary Theory, Biological Evolution, Acceptance of Evolution, Explicit NOS, Reflective NOS, Understanding Nature of Science, Conceptual Gains
Bibliography Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Advisory Committee: Sherry Southerland, Professor Directing Dissertation; Frederick Davis, Outside Committee Member; Alejandro Gallard, Committee Member; Jon Stallins, Committee Member.
Subject(s): Teachers -- Training of
Persistent Link to This Record: http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_migr_etd-2415
Owner Institution: FSU

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Butler, W. (2009). Does the Nature of Science Influence College Students' Learning of Biological Evolution? Retrieved from http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_migr_etd-2415