Monday, August 4, 2008 - 2:10 PM

OOS 1-3: Challenging ecological misconceptions and enhancing ecological learning using Power-of-Story-5E teaching units

Weixing Zhu and Nancy E. Stamp. State University of New York - Binghamton

Background/Question/Methods Most college professors are experts in their subject fields and are dedicated to undergraduate teaching, but that does not necessarily translate into effective teaching outcomes. Students’ scientific misconceptions often negatively affect ecological understanding. Furthermore, complicated ecological phenomena, usually involving multiple feedback mechanisms, pose challenges for engaging students in sophisticated learning. We administrated a pre- and post-course survey on ecological and evolutionary misconceptions. We also used two Power-of-Story-5E teaching units, one (Eastern Deciduous Forest) at the beginning and one (Everglades Ecosystem Restoration) close to the end of a large-enrollment lecture course. The power of story refers to the use of narrative to convey scientific information while the 5E cycle refers to five phases (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) that are addressing misconceptions. We hypothesized that ecological misconceptions will be challenged and corrected through the course, and learning improvement on concepts directly targeted by the teaching units will be higher than those addressed by the regular lecture only.


Our results showed that in the concept survey, the “correct answers” to 20 ecology questions increased on average 5.6 percentage points, but just 1.7 points for 10 evolution questions, which served as a type of control. But we found no difference in learning improvement between concepts that were targeted in the teaching-units and those addressed by regular lectures. However, qualitative feedback from students suggests that the first teaching unit served to engage them in the concepts of ecosystems, and the end teaching unit helped them to apply the concepts.  In particular, in the Everglades unit, student self-assessment showed significant improvement on the understandings of a major restoration research article. Overall, essays and concept maps before and after both teaching units showed improvement of sophisticated learning on the two ecosystems.  We also conclude that to conduct research like this, in a setting where we have no parallel control course section, we need to expand the question sets for a more fine-grained approach.