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Evolution: Education and Outreach







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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Background: Previous research has identified numerous factors to explain why students have difficulty learning about evolution. Some of these factors include a student’s background (including their religion and major of study), the type of evolution instruction, and the inclusion of the nature of science (NOS) instruction. Sparse but more recent work has investigated the impact of a religious-scientist role model to help dampen perceptions of conflict between evolutionary science and worldview. We had two research goals: (1) to identify which of these factors influence students’ learning of evolution in post-secondary education; and (2) to describe the relationships among incoming biology students’ creationist reasoning, knowledge of evolution, and perceived conflict between evolution and their worldview.

Results: The single factor linked with the reduction in both creationist reasoning and in students’ perceived conflict between evolution and their worldview through a semester was the presence of a role model. Likewise, knowledge and perceived relevance of evolution increased in sections with a role model instructor and with evidence-based evolution instruction. Otherwise, tested factors (the type of evolution instruction, inclusion of NOS, biology-major/ nonmajor, GPA, or religiosity) were not shown to be associated with these three constructs. We found that in the first week of the semester students with higher knowledge of evolution had lower creationist reasoning and lower perceived conflict.

Conclusions: The single factor that collectively reduced erroneous beliefs, increased scientific knowledge, and minimized perceived conflict was the presence of a religious-scientist role model. Previous work has suggested a role model could positively impact students’ learning of evolution, yet this is the first quasi-experimental evidence supporting the importance of the course instructor as the role model in students’ learning of evolution. These findings are especially relevant to institutions with a greater proportion of religious students who could benefit from modeling to help foster their learning of evolution.