The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Physical anthropology and evolution education research: Exploring physical anthropology students' evolutionary reasoning


STEM Education, Department of Teaching and Learning, The Ohio State University

March 28, 2015 , Archview Ballroom Add to calendar

Biology students are the subjects of the vast majority of a growing body of evolution education research concerning student understanding of evolution. Physical anthropology (p.a.) applies evolutionary theory as an organizing framework, but is situated within the context of human evolution. This study tests the hypothesis that the context of human evolution provides certain cognitive advantages in evolution education, by investigating p.a. and biology students’ evolution understanding. A survey assessing student understanding of evolution was used to collect data on introductory biology (n=125) and p.a. (n=85) students from a Midwestern university, both directly following evolution instruction and at semester’s end. Explanations of evolutionary change were scored for the presence of three key concepts considered necessary and sufficient for explaining evolutionary change (variation, heritability, differential reproduction). A chi-square analysis found biology students used these three concepts in tandem more than expected when asked to explain an increase in brain size (p=0.000), but there were no differences between courses for the explanations of change for the remaining three traits. A pairwise comparison from a generalized linear mixed model revealed that p.a. students were more likely to use key concepts in questions asking about trait loss (p=0.044) compared to biology students directly following instruction, but these differences were not present towards the end of the semester suggesting that p.a. instruction may offer an advantage, but the information is not being retained. These findings have important implications for p.a. instruction and highlight the valuable role p.a. has to play in evolution education.

This research was funded by the Marilyn Ruth Hathaway Education Scholarship Fund and NSF REESE grant 0909999.