Moving Evolution Education Forward

evolution topic.jpgRecent research co-authored by department of genetics Ph.D. candidate Michelle Ziadie focuses on resources available for undergraduate evolution instructors. From the abstract of the paper:

Evolution is a unifying theory in biology and is challenging for undergraduates to learn. An instructor’s ability to help students learn is influenced by pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), which is topic-specific knowledge of teaching and learning. Instructors need PCK for every topic they teach, which is a tremendous body of knowledge to develop alone. However, investigations of undergraduate thinking and learning have produced collective PCK that is available in peer-reviewed literature. Currently, it is unclear whether the collective PCK available adequately addresses the topics in evolution that college instructors teach. We systematically examined existing literature to determine what collective PCK for teaching evolution is available and what is missing. We conducted an exhaustive literature search and analyzed 316 relevant papers to determine: the evolutionary topics addressed; whether the focus was student thinking, assessment, instructional strategies, or goals; and the type of work (e.g., empirical, literature review). We compared the collective PCK available in the literature with the topics taught in a sample of 32 undergraduate evolution courses around the country. On the basis of our findings, we propose priorities for the evolution education research community and propose that PCK is a useful lens for guiding future research on teaching and learning biology.

"Evolution is a multifaceted subject, but my study found that most of the investigations into evolution education are focused on the teaching and learning of natural selection," Ziadie elaborated in an email. "I think part of this pattern reflects what educators and researchers think of as 'critical knowledge' for understanding evolution. However, other research suggests that a focus on natural selection can lead to inaccurate ideas about other topics in evolution, including natural selection. Ironically, I also think this reflects the history of the field of evolutionary biology, which also began with a narrow focus on natural selection and adaptation."

Great work, with real implications for how students learn at the university level. Congratulations to Ziadie, and to her colleagues and professors in the department of genetics.