The Effects of Dyad Communication and Collaboration on Conceptual Change
Mentor:Andrew Shtulman, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Occidental College
Studies have shown that many students hold naïve, incorrect need-based theories of evolution that are incompatible with the principle of natural selection, even after completing several biology classes. Furthermore, studies have also found that collaboration among pairs, or dyads, can improve problem-solving skills. Our study explored whether collaboration and communication among dyads can improve conceptual understanding, and perhaps even facilitate conceptual change, in the domain of evolution. College undergraduates (N = 50) were recruited through an online research participation system, and asked to sign up in pairs. A few participants were paired randomly when unable to bring their own partner. Experimenters administered a survey to assess participants’ evolution understanding, first individually and then in pairs. The paired interactions were audio-recorded, and coded for duration and number of back-and-forth responses within the dyad. The language of the dyad’s written responses were also compared to that of their individual responses. “Variational”, scientifically correct answers spoke about evolution as selective propagation of variation within a species. “Tranformational”, intuitive answers referred to a uniform transformation of a species’ essence. Most of the dyads experienced an inequality of evolution understanding, where one partner held a more scientific theory than the other partner. We found that mixed dyads chose the more variational response of the two individuals’ answers more that twice as often as the intuitive response. Through analysis of their dialogue and observing the change in response given when paired, we suggest that mixed dyads may be useful both in exposing and changing naïve theories of science.