The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Darwin on Campus: An assessment of students’ knowledge of Darwin and evolution on the 200th anniversary of his birth


1Department of Anthropology, University of North Dakota, 2Department of English, University of North Dakota, 3Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado-Boulder

Saturday 170, Plaza Level Add to calendar

The bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth saw a range of celebrations, symposia, and museum exhibits dedicated to his honor. In the spring of 2009, FPC developed an undergraduate, seminar-style course titled “Darwin at 200” at the University of North Dakota. Students in this course examined and discussed a range of literature placing Darwin’s work in its historical and scientific contexts. Emanating from this background work, students designed and completed a group project in which they assessed fellow students’ knowledge of Darwin and his work. 200 surveys were conducted on campus. Survey questions were based on three statements thought by the class to be potentially misunderstood regarding Darwin: 1) is Darwin the source of the concept of evolution? 2) is human evolution discussed in detail in On the Origin of Species? and 3) is Darwin responsible for the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Percentages of incorrect answers to these three questions were 65.7%, 68.1%, and 53.1%, respectively. These answers were further analyzed in relation to demographic responses, including major, year in school, state of origin, and familiarity with On the Origin of Species, in addition to student’s confidence levels for each answer they gave. Our data, generated from a student-designed project, have yielded interesting results about students' knowledge of Darwin, but, perhaps more significantly, spark pertinent questions about teaching Darwin in the classroom, the importance of Darwin in anthropology, teaching physical anthropology, and the ramifications of such a study for students both within and outside of anthropology.

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