Making biology education software, like teaching, is a passion rather than a path to riches. What drives us is the idea that we can make learning biology easier and more fun. That’s why we are especially excited (and proud) of the research our company does into how students learn, and how simulated experiments can help them learn better. If you haven’t yet seen it, our latest study on students understanding and acceptance of evolution came out this summer as the cover article in CBE Life Sciences Education.
Our Evolutionary Evidence lab is becoming one of the most popular in our introductory and non-majors biology set. Evolutionary Evidence guides students through several lines of evidence that life on earth has evolved. The lab focuses on how nesting of sets of traits would differ between evolved and separately created species, and how the degree of nesting can be used to test evolution against the fossil record. It’s a visually fun lab—students get to create or evolve sets of lizards with horns, stripes, crests, and other colorful accouterments.
As part of a larger NSF-funded study, we looked at whether the lab helped students improve on a number of confusions we identified in our research. Overall, students from a variety of different schools and class levels did, in fact, improve their understanding of the evidence for evolution through this lab. They also increased their acceptance of evolution as the scientific explanation for the diversity of life on earth, a rather remarkable result for a 1.5 hr lab.
But when we looked more closely at three of the most common confusions around the evidence for evolution, we found one where our lab actually made students get worse. In Evolutionary Evidence (as in many activities around macro-evolution) students only add new features to lizards, never removing features. This apparently reinforced the common misconception that evolution progresses from simpler to more complex species over time.
In response, this fall we introduced a new version of Evolutionary Evidence with a new, short section designed to address that misconception head-on. It’s exciting to us that we can take our research and directly use it to continually improve our labs. If you are planning to use Evolutionary Evidence this fall or next spring, we’d love your help in our follow-up study by including pre and post tests in the version of the lab your students receive.
If you are interested in the research that lays the groundwork behind our labs, take a look at the paper here, and we’d love to hear your reactions.