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Evolution. 2002 Oct;56(10):1891-901.

Perspective: Teaching evolution in higher education.

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Evolution Education Research Centre, McGill University, Montréal, Québec.


In the past decade, the academic community has increased considerably its activity concerning the teaching and learning of evolution. Despite such beneficial activity, the state of public understanding of evolution is considered woefully lacking by most researchers and educators. This lack of understanding affects evolution/science literacy, research, and academia in general. Not only does the general public lack an understanding of evolution but so does a considerable proportion of college graduates. However, it is not just evolutionary concepts that students do not retain. In general, college students retain little of what they supposedly have learned. Worse yet, it is not just students who have avoided science and math who fail to retain fundamental science concepts. Students who have had extensive secondary-level and college courses in science have similar deficits. We examine these issues and explore what distinguishes effective pedagogy from ineffective pedagogy in higher education in general and evolution education in particular. The fundamental problem of students' prior conceptions is considered and why prior conceptions often underpin students' misunderstanding of the evolutionary concepts being taught. These conceptions can often be discovered and addressed. We also attend to concerns about coverage of course content and the influence of religious beliefs, and provide helpful strategies to improve college-level teaching of evolution.

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