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uniserve 2007 taylor and cope with revisions final

uniserve 2007 taylor and cope with revisions final - Are...

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Are there educationally critical aspects in the concept of evolution? Charlotte Taylor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Australia Chris Cope, Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, La Trobe University, Australia [email protected] [email protected] Overview This paper describes a preliminary investigation into the concepts of troublesome knowledge and thresholds in student understanding within the biology discipline. We propose that evolution represents a threshold concept in the discipline and, consequently, constitutes troublesome knowledge. We sought to explore evolution as a threshold concept in biology using a phenomenographic approach to identify the educationally critical aspects of an understanding of evolution appropriate for undergraduate students. Here we describe the steps in the process whereby we developed the educationally critical aspects from a series of responses to a question about evolution, provided by students entering first year biology at the University of Sydney. The aspects of evolution we identified provide a framework for designing more effective learning activities. Background The current definition of a threshold concept was proposed by Meyer and Land (2003) and describes concepts which require an integration of understandings such that ways of thinking are irreversibly changed. Concepts which appear to fit this definition have previously been identified in qualitative studies in biology (Taylor 2006, in press), through a series of interviews with biologists teaching undergraduate courses, and with postgraduate students who had completed biology degree courses. All interviewees identified areas of biology which they, or their students, found troublesome. Initially such concepts appeared to be characterised as being basic principles of biology, generally encountered at a preliminary level. However further discussion of the properties of such concepts brought into question the extent to which they exhibited features of transformation of understanding, inherent in the definition of a threshold (Enwistle, in press). Davies and Mangan (2006) have subsequently divided troublesome concepts into a series of categories of increasing complexity, namely basic, discipline and modeling concepts. We now want to explore biology threshold concepts and attempt to fit them into these new categories. However, we still struggle with the specific character of the threshold, and whether there can be distinct aspects of a threshold concept which are identifiable and which represent educationally critical steps that need to be overcome to develop a deeper understanding. In trying to untangle these arguments we needed to work with something which is clearly a threshold in understanding biology, in that it has a transformative role in developing understanding both at a fundamental level and at the more sophisticated ‘ways of thinking’ level. Entwistle (pers comm.) has postulated that an understanding of evolution involves a
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