Year of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Other Degree Name/Area of Focus
Society and Conservation
Department or School/College
College of Forestry and Conservation
Carol A. Brewer
Paul Alaback, William Borrie, Betsy Wackernagel Bach, Denise Dowling, Ray Ekness, Douglas J. Emlen
conceptual change, evolution understanding, misconceptions, nature programs, public understanding of science, science education
University of Montana
Evolution is a central underlying concept to a significant number of discourses in civilized society, but the complexity of understanding basic tenets of this important theory is just now coming to light. Knowledge about evolution is constructed from both formal and "free-choice" opportunities, like television. Nature programs are commonly considered "educational" by definition, but research indicates the narratives often promote creationist ideas about this important process in biology. I explored how nature programs influenced knowledge construction about evolutionary theory using a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches. Because misconceptions about evolution are common, I examined how students` conceptual ecologies changed in response to information presented in an example of a particularly poor nature film narrative. Students` held a diversity of misconceptions, proximate conceptions, and evolutionary conceptions simultaneously, and many of their responses were direct reflections of the nature program. As a result, I incorporated the same nature program into an experiment designed to examine the effects of narrative and imagery on evolution understanding. After completing an extensive pre-assessment that addressed attitudes and beliefs about science knowledge, students viewed one of four versions of the nature program that varied in the quality of science and imagery presented. The effect of watching different versions was only vaguely apparent in students with a moderate understanding of evolution. The relationship was much more complex among students with a poor understanding of evolution but suggested a negative effect that was more influenced by public discourses about this "controversial" subject than conceptual understanding. The relationships warranted examining learning from the perspective of the consumers of these programs. I surveyed audience beliefs about the educational value of nature programs and found that an overwhelming majority believed the programs were "educational" and designed to teach about nature. The results were particularly alarming because beliefs about the educational value may strongly impact learning outcomes. An informal survey of nature programs aired during a "sweeps" month indicated that poor presentation of science, and specifically evolutionary theory, was indeed the norm. Indeed, nature programs may be contributing to the "deconstruction" of knowledge about evolution both in and out of the classroom.
Perkins, Alison Emily Havard, "KNOWING THE NATURAL WORLD: THE CONSTRUCTION OF KNOWLEDGE ABOUT EVOLUTION IN AND OUT OF THE CLASSROOM" (2009). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 607.
© Copyright 2009 Alison Emily Havard Perkins