The relationship of formal reasoning, motivation, and conceptual change: a quantitative study of introductory biology students across the United States

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


There is a noticeable disconnect between conceptual change research carried out in different domains of knowledge. This is starkly apparent in the divide between theoretical models of conceptual change stemming from cognitive and educational psychology, and empirical studies on conceptual change rooted in science education. This study operationalized models of conceptual change that accounted for the rational aspect of conceptual change that dominates in the natural sciences, and the extrarational aspects of conceptual change that are focal in the social sciences. Mixed effects models of conceptual change were investigated. In addition to prior knowledge, formal reasoning ability was incorporated as a critical rational aspect of conceptual change. Academic motivation, plus the teaching and learning environment students experience were included as essential extrarational aspects of conceptual change. The final operational model of conceptual change has post-instruction score as the response variable, and pre-instruction score, formal reasoning ability, intrinsic motivation, representation of racial group in science, teacher experience, and teaching practice as the most important predictors of conceptual change. Prior knowledge and formal reasoning ability are by far the strongest predictors of improving post-instruction conceptual understanding of evolution by natural selection for introductory biology students. There are two noteworthy findings. One, a crucial student characteristic, formal reasoning ability, has been ignored in conceptual change research. When formal reasoning ability is included as a predictor, self-efficacy is not at all important in predicting conceptual change. Two, another student characteristic, race, plays an important role in predicting conceptual change.




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