Qualitative Analysis of College Students' Ideas about the Earth: Interviews and Open-Ended Questionnaires

By Libarkin, Julie C.; Anderson, Steven W. et al. | Journal of Geoscience Education, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Qualitative Analysis of College Students' Ideas about the Earth: Interviews and Open-Ended Questionnaires


Libarkin, Julie C., Anderson, Steven W., Science, Julie Dahl, Beilfuss, Meredith, Boone, William, Journal of Geoscience Education


ABSTRACT

Student conceptual understanding and conceptual change is an active area of research in many science disciplines. In the geosciences, alternative conceptions held by students, particularly college students, are not well documented or understood. To further this body of research, students enrolled in introductory science courses at four institutions completed 265 open-ended questionnaires and participated in 105 interviews. Data were collected at a small private university, two large state schools, and one small public liberal arts college. Students were probed on a variety of topics related to the Earth's crust and interior, as well as geologic time. Analysis of questionnaire and interview responses indicates that students hold a number of non-scientific ideas about the Earth. Additionally, students apply a range of ontological categories to geologic phenomena, with significant implications for teaching geosciences from a systems perspective.

INTRODUCTION

The study of what students believe about science, how ideas about science can develop or change, and why some ideas are prevalent throughout society has been an active focus of research for many years (Gilbert and Watts, 1983; Driver et al., 1985; Lawson et al., 2000). The study of conceptual understanding and conceptual change in the Earth Sciences, however, has typically been limited to issues related to space science or the environment. Additionally, the few existing studies are almost exclusively limited to K-12 students, with very little examination of ideas held by college students. We report here on a multi-institution study of the ideas held by college students about a variety of geoscience topics. This research is part of a larger project aimed at developing an assessment instrument for entry-level geoscience courses (Libarkin et al., 2002).

We have chosen to focus our initial efforts on three aspects of geoscience: Earth's crust, Earth's interior, and geologic time. Findings reported here are limited to topics covered in questionnaires administered during the 2001-2002 academic year and student interviews conducted during Spring 2002, although study of additional topics is ongoing. We find that a range of student ideas exists, and many of these are common across institutions, regardless or the demographics of the student population. Additionally, students' views of the world around them can be categorized ontologically (e.g. Chi and Slotta, 1993; Chi, 1997), and we have found similarities in ontological perspectives within the entire population studied. The term "ontology" refers to a hierarchical structuring of knowledge, and allows us to describe the ways in which people understand geologic processes (Table 1). We separate our discussion into two components: a reporting of existing student ideas, and an analysis of the implications of student ontologies on current reform efforts.

Student Ideas - Student ideas about the Earth that have not previously been reported are documented here. A few of the most prevalent ideas are discussed in detail, and some suggestions for their origin and ties to existing literature are reported. Additionally, commonalities in non-scientific ideas that exist across institutions, as well as differences, are considered. For instance, most students at all four institutions believed some form of life existed when the Earth first formed as a planet. However, the form that this life took varied significantly across institutions. Similarly, most students subdivided the Earth's interior into spherical layers, although few students were able to explain the reasons behind these divisions.

Student Ontologies - The focus of Earth Science education at both the K-12 and collegiate levels has shifted over the past decade from a focus on sub-disciplines to a focus on the Earth as an integrated system. National organizations have published a number of documents encouraging faculty to teach undergraduates from an Earth Systems Science perspective (Ireton et al.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Qualitative Analysis of College Students' Ideas about the Earth: Interviews and Open-Ended Questionnaires
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.