Communication Across a Conceptual Divide: Effects of Collaboration on Evolutionary Reasoning
Mentor:Andrew Shtulman, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Occidental College
Teaching students the theory of evolution by natural selection has become a fundamental goal of science education. Nevertheless, students often construct an intuitive, need-based theory of evolution reminiscent of pre-Darwinian theories that impedes their ability to learn the correct, selection-based theory when it is taught (Shtulman, 2006; Shtulmn & Calabi, 2012). Our study explored how students who hold an incorrect, need-based theory communicate with those who hold a correct, selection-based theory. Specifically, we evaluated how collaboration influences evolutionary reasoning. College undergraduates (N = 50) were administered a survey designed to assess their evolutionary reasoning. Each participant took the survey twice, once individually and then again with a partner. Dyads were instructed to collaborate with one another and to complete the evolutionary reasoning survey together. No further direction was provided. We predicted that collaboration would help dyads earn a higher score on the assessment than either partner was able to earn individually. Ultimately, we found that collaboration led lower-scoring partners to improve such that the dyad’s score would rise to the level of the higher-scoring partner. This research will contribute to a growing body of literature on the nature of conceptual change and its relation to knowledge enrichment. Results may also provide insight into how collaboration can be used to reveal and correct robust misconceptions in the science classroom.