Alternative conceptions of introductory geoscience students and a method to decrease them

Karen Melissa Kortz, University of Rhode Island


College students often leave introductory geoscience courses with alternative conceptions, and these alternative conceptions are a barrier to their grasp of geological conceptions. This dissertation clarifies the problem and suggests pedagogical strategies for correcting it. It is an integration of research on students' conceptions of geoscience topics with the application of that knowledge to the development of materials to change these conceptions to be more scientifically accurate. This research identifies and documents alternative conceptions students have in several key geoscience topics and the consequences of these alternative conception in terms of preventing understanding. After documenting the alternative conceptions, I investigate their sources. In addition, I develop ways in which the alternative conceptions can be addressed in classrooms in terms of non-traditional teaching techniques, and I assess the success of these methods. ^ Chapter 1 addresses alternative conceptions in general introductory geoscience topics. I use known student alternative conceptions to develop a series of interactive materials to help reduce students' alternative conceptions. After their development, I assess the efficacy of these materials, and my research indicates that they are successful in helping students better learn the geoscience concepts. ^ Chapter 2 deals with a particularly difficult topic for students—that of phylogenetic systematics. Students have an intuitive way of categorizing organisms, and this categorization is different from the system used by experts within the field. My investigation indicates the conceptual change required of students to fully understand the topic leads to great difficulties with learning. Drawing upon results of the research in Chapter 1, I developed and assessed interactive materials to help students better understand phylogenetic systematics. ^ Using the insight gained from Chapters 1 and 2, Chapters 3 and 4 further examine students' conceptions in an area critical to understanding geology: rocks and their formation. My research indicates that students view rocks as objects independent from the processes that form and change them. In addition, I document students' alternative conceptions of rocks. Using these alternative conceptions, I look more deeply into the underlying factors that cause the difficulties students have with learning rocks, their formation, and their importance to the geosciences. ^

Subject Area

Geology|Education, Sciences

Recommended Citation

Karen Melissa Kortz, "Alternative conceptions of introductory geoscience students and a method to decrease them" (2009). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3367995.