RCN-UBE Incubator: Coordinating a cross-disciplinary research network toward standardizing measurement of evolution acceptance

Project: Research project

Project Details


RCN-UBE Incubator: Coordinating a cross-disciplinary research network toward standardizing measurement of evolution acceptance RCN-UBE Incubator: Coordinating a cross-disciplinary research network toward standardizing measurement of evolution acceptance When undergraduate biology students learn the core concept of evolution, what determines whether students will actually accept what they are taught? While a seemingly simple question, different definitions of acceptance of evolution, different survey instruments used to measure evolution acceptance, validity issues in survey instruments for different populations, conflation of knowledge with acceptance of evolution, conflation between evolution acceptance and the nature of science, and a disconnect in communication among relevant disciplinary groups have presented barriers to addressing this question. This has resulted in wide variations and contradictions in evolution acceptance findings, which has hindered progress towards increasing student acceptance of this foundational theory. We propose to establish a new network of individuals who have expertise relevant for improving the way we measure student acceptance of evolution. There are distinct lines of research in cognitive science, social psychology, educational psychology, theology and evolution education to understand acceptance and rejection of evolution. Unfortunately, researchers in these fields rarely speak across their disciplinary boundaries. In addition, even within a discipline, different researchers often define and measure key constructs in evolution education research differently, making these lines of research difficult to compare. Finally, religiosity is a major factor in accepting evolution, yet we know little about how individuals with different religious beliefs, particularly Christians, interpret items on these evolution acceptance instruments. To move forward and make meaningful strides in improving evolution acceptance, evolution education researchers across disciplines and representing different religious beliefs need to come together to discuss and revise a set of definitions and tools to use in this type of research. In this RCN-UBE Incubator proposal, the core team of discipline-based education researchers proposes to convene an in-person meeting of experts in different disciplines who all have a shared interest in evolution acceptance, yet rarely, if ever, talk to each other. The goal of this meeting is to identify how to create and sustain a network with a full-length RCN-UBE proposal to improve our current suite of instruments to measure evolution acceptance. Our PI/Co-PI team of discipline-based education researchers who focus on evolution acceptance is as follows: PI: Sara Brownell, Arizona State University (creating more inclusive evolution classrooms for religious students); Co-PI: Ross Nehm, Stonybrook (assessment design and validity); Co-PI: Jamie Jensen, Brigham Young University (acceptance of evolution for religious students); Co-PI: Jason Wiles, Syracuse University (factors that influence evolution acceptance); Co-PI: M. Elizabeth Barnes, Arizona State University (developing culturally competent evolution instruction for religious students). Our Steering Committee of experts in other disciplines that have unique expertise to help improve evolution acceptance instruments is as follows: Andrew Shtulman, Occidental College (cognitive science); Jonathan Mcphetres, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (social psychology); Michael Reiss, University College London (theology and philosophy of science) and Yi Zheng, Arizona State University (psychometrics). Intellectual Merit: We can establish a new interdisciplinary network that can help improve and create standardized measurement for evolution acceptance. As such, we can uncover clear solutions, implement them more precisely, and avoid additional years of stagnant evolution acceptance rates. Broader impacts: This project has the potential to broadly increase evolution acceptance rates that have been stagnant for at least 36 years. In 1983, 44% of Americans did not accept that humans evolved; in 2019, 40% of Americans still do not accept that humans evolved. Undergraduate biology students are no different; 40% of incoming introductory biology students do not think all of life is related. This lack of progress in getting students to recognize evolution as a credible and powerful scientific theory has been cited as one of the biggest failures of science education in the modern era.
Effective start/end date12/15/2011/30/22


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $73,269.00


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