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ERIC Number: EJ1003075
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Jun
Pages: 27
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 68
ISSN: ISSN-0157-244X
Learning the Language of Evolution: Lexical Ambiguity and Word Meaning in Student Explanations
Rector, Meghan A.; Nehm, Ross H.; Pearl, Dennis
Research in Science Education, v43 n3 p1107-1133 Jun 2013
Our study investigates the challenges introduced by students' use of lexically ambiguous language in evolutionary explanations. Specifically, we examined students' meaning of five key terms incorporated into their written evolutionary explanations: "pressure", "select", "adapt", "need", and "must". We utilized a new technological tool known as the Assessment Cascade System (ACS) to investigate the frequency with which biology majors spontaneously used lexically ambiguous language in evolutionary explanations, as well as their definitions and explanations of what they meant when they used such terms. Three categories of language were identified and examined in this study: terms with "Dual Ambiguity", "Incompatible Ambiguity", and "Unintended Ambiguity". In the sample of 1282 initial evolutionary explanations, 81% of students spontaneously incorporated lexically ambiguous language at least once. Furthermore, the majority of these initial responses were judged to be inaccurate from a scientific point of view. While not significantly related to gender, age, or reading/writing ability, students' use of contextually appropriate evolutionary language (pressure and adapt) was significantly associated with academic performance in biology. Comparisons of initial responses to follow-up responses demonstrated that the majority of student explanations were not reinterpreted after consideration of the follow-up response; nevertheless, a sizeable minority was interpreted differently. Most cases of interpretation change were a consequence of resolving initially ambiguous responses, rather than a change of accuracy, resulting in an increased understanding of students' evolutionary explanations. We discuss a series of implications of lexical ambiguity for evolution education.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A