Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2012


Undergraduates commonly harbor alternate conceptions about evolutionary biology; these alternate conceptions often persist, even after intensive instruction, and may influence acceptance of evolution. We interviewed undergraduates to explore their alternate conceptions about macroevolutionary patterns and designed a 2-h lesson plan to present evidence that life has evolved. We identified three alternate conceptions during our interviews: that newly derived traits would be more widespread in extant species than would be ancestral traits, that evolution proceeds solely by anagenesis, and that lineages must become more complex over time. We also attempted to measure changes in the alternate conceptions and levels of acceptance of evolutionary theory in biology majors and nonmajors after exposure to the lesson plan. The instrument used to assess understanding had flaws, but our results are suggestive of mixed effects: we found a reduction in the first alternate conception, no change in the second, and reinforcement of the third. We found a small, but significant, increase in undergraduate acceptance of evolutionary theory in two trials of the lesson plan (Cohen's d effect sizes of 0.51 and 0.19). These mixed results offer guidance on how to improve the lesson and show the potential of instructional approaches for influencing acceptance of evolution.


Copyright © 2012 J. K. Abraham et al.

Publication Title

CBE life sciences education



Included in

Biology Commons



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