Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ronald G. Good


This study investigated eighty junior and senior college students' understanding of evolutionary biology concepts in lecture-only and lecture-laboratory settings. The evolution lab stressed the processes of evolution, and involved simulations, experiments, discussions, report writing, and reading. Test scores do not reveal everything about the actual process of learning in the laboratory. This study examined conceptual change patterns over a period of one semester using in-depth interviews with eight participants. The study revealed that the lecture-laboratory group performed better than the lecture-only group on certain shared items on the objective examination. The interview participants showed various patterns of conceptual change; that is, holistic (wholesale and cascade), fragmented, and dual constructions. Dual constructions and wholesale conceptual changes were the most common types of conceptual change patterns observed. Laboratory work in evolution allowed students to grapple with their alternative conceptions for abstract evolutionary concepts. They made use of the opportunities for cognitive conflict provided by the lab sessions. Some students adhered to their initial alternative conceptions which constrained the provision of scientific explanations for the biological problems. Examples of alternative conceptions are a young earth, rejection of macroevolution, and Lamarckian conceptions. The belief system of one student strongly influenced her retention of alternative conceptions, although she had done the laboratory course. However, two other students (one a lecture-lab participant) who held similar religious beliefs were able to develop a better understanding of evolution. Strong religious beliefs do not always preclude a good understanding of evolution. This study revealed a direct, positive relationship between students' understanding of evolutionary concepts and their understanding of the nature of science. The observation was true for both lecture-only and lecture-lab groups.