Available Biology Education research projects:
Contact person: Jelle Boeve - de Pauw, email@example.com
Nature connectedness is described in educational and psychological literature as a factor of great importance for young people. This connectedness can be expressed in two ways. There is the affective involvement of young people with nature, also referred to as the degree to which individuals experience themselves as part of (or just separated from) the natural environment. On the other hand, there is the more behavioural involvement: the extent to which young people come into contact with nature in their personal and school context. These two components have been shown to be crucial in developing environmental behavior, willingness to contribute to nature conservation, young people's health and learning, and even their citizenship competences.
In this light, the botanical gardens of Utrecht University hold great educational and societal potential. Class groups can come there to learn about the plant kingdom, ecology, biodiversity, evolution and conservation in an informal context. Currently, Utrecht University Botanic Gardens (hereafter referred to as BoTu) are renewing their educational activities. This creates the possibility for meaningful educational research.
Questions that can be put in focus in master studies are, among others:
- How can the educational activities of the BoTu tap into the interests of various groups of young people? We know from literature that young people go through a dip in their (personal and situational) interest in and connection with nature during adolescence. The informal learning context of the BoTu offers room to work complementary to the school curriculum and to focus on specific interests (and interest development) of pupils. The question then is, what are those interests and how can they be integrated in the educational activities?
- Which elements of self-determination (Autonomy, Relatedness, Competence) can be identified in the current educational activities of the botanical gardens? Research from psychology shows that basic needs satisfaction contributes to the well-being and learning of pupils. Research into the (potential) presence of these basic needs in the educational activities of the botanical gardens can contribute to strengthening the educational impact.
- What is the educational impact of the educational offering of the botanical gardens? Research on the learning outcomes (knowledge, attitudes, skills) of pupils participating in the educational activities of the gardens may reveal the impact and whether this impact is the same for different participants (age, origin, language, place of residence...).
- And finally, how can the three previous questions and their answers be linked to optimize the educational offer of the gardens and develop effective educational interventions.
Research that provides answers to these questions can take the form of (longitudinal) survey research, in-depth interviews and focus groups, case studies, design research, or a targeted combination of these.
The insights gained are relevant beyond the specific context of Utrecht University's Botanic Gardens. They teach us more generally about how informal education can connect to interests and basic needs and how this can enhance the effectiveness of an educational activities in term of pupils’ knowledge, attitudes, and actions concerning the natural environment. As such, Utrecht University Botanic Gardens is a fruitful context to serve as a test case.
Students interested in this research can negotiate with Jelle Boeve-de Pauw (assistant professor biology didactics at the Freudenthal Institute) and Edwin Pos (scientific director of Utrecht University Botanic Gardens), which questions they would like to focus on in their research project.
Aladağ, E., Arıkan, A., & Özenoğlu, H. (2021). Nature education: Outdoor learning of map literacy skills and reflective thinking skill towards problem-solving. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 40, 100815.
Barrable, A., & Booth, D. (2020). Increasing nature connection in children: A mini review of interventions. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 492
Cincera, J., Johnson, B., & Kovacikova, S. (2015). Evaluation of a place-based environmental education program: From there to here. Applied Environmental Education & Communication, 14(3), 178-186
Martin, L., White, M.P., Hunt, A., Richardson, M., Pahl, S., & Burt, J. (2020). Nature contact, nature connectedness and associations with health, wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviors. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 68, 101389.
Paraskeva-Hadjichami, D., Goldman, D., Hadjichambis, A., Parra, G., Lapin, K., Knippels, M.C., Van Dam, F. (2020). Educating for environmental citizenship in non-formal framework secondary level youth. In: Hadjicjambis, A., Reis, P., Paraskeva-Hadjichami, D., Cincera, J., Boeve-de Pauw, J., Gericke, N., & Knippels, M.C. (Eds.) Conceptualizing Environmental Citizenship for 21st century education. Springer Open: Cham
Sellmann, D., & Bogner, F. X. (2013). Effects of a 1-day environmental education intervention on environmental attitudes and connectedness with nature. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(3), 1077-1086.
Contact: Micha Ummels (M.H.J.firstname.lastname@example.org)
Context-based approaches generally improve students’ engagement by situating the learning of science in contexts that represent the real world, which helps students to appreciate the role science plays in their own lives and in society. This research project focuses on one specific form of context-based education: the concept-context approach. According to this approach, a context is defined as a representation of an existing scientific, professional or real-life community of practice in which participants perform goal-oriented activities (Boersma et al., 2007).
At present, one of the challenges in biology education is to change the educational practice towards the intended context-based innovation. So far, several new editions of biology textbooks have been introduced with a rich variety of sources that refer to authentic social practices. For biology teachers, it is a challenge to transform such an authentic social practice into usable contexts for classroom use, in order to really engage students in meaningful learning tasks in which they develop a coherent conceptual understanding (Wieringa et al., 2011; Ummels et al. 2015).
The aim of this study is to design, conduct and evaluate learning-teaching (LT) activities for context-based biology lessons. Students’ learning goals for these lessons could be focused on domain-specific thinking skills, such as biological system thinking, biological (causal) reasoning, or understanding of biological models and modelling. If you are interested please contact me.
Micha Ummels, M.H.J.email@example.com.
Boersma, K., van Graft, M., Harteveld, A., de Hullu, E., de Knecht-van Eekeren, A., Mazereeuw, M., van den Oever, L., & van der Zande, P. (2007). Leerlijn biologie van 4 tot 18 jaar. CVBO. https://nibi.nl/uploads/nibi/files/04f6d35a0b44c4154284fc2a5eeb8e72f0ad7904.pdf
Nienke Wieringa, Fred J. J. M. Janssen & Jan H. Van Driel (2011) Biology Teachers Designing Context-Based Lessons for Their Classroom Practice—The importance of rules-of-thumb, International Journal of Science Education, 33:17, 2437-2462, https://doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2011.553969
Ummels, M.H.J., Kamp, M.J.A., De, Kroon, H. and Boersma, K.T. (2015), Promoting Conceptual Coherence Within Context‐Based Biology Education. Sci. Ed., 99: 958-985.
Contact: Christine Knippels (M.C.P.J.Knippels@uu.nl)
Rapid developments in biology and the life sciences, such as synthetic biology and renewable energy offer a lot of promises and potential. For instance, development of personalised medicines, vaccines and biofuels. However, it also raises questions about biosafety or the moral boundaries of modifying DNA. These kinds of questions or issues are so called socio-scientific issues (SSI).
SSIs are problems which often arise in our society and have a scientific and/or a technological component. There is no consensus on how such problems might best be solved for the well-being of individuals and society at large. The public in general and students in particular, should be able to negotiate and make informed decisions about these kinds of SSIs. Fostering these aspects of citizenship is an important aim of biology education both on the national (Examenprogramma Biologie, 2016) and European level (European Commission, 2015).
However, dealing with personal values and beliefs, and societal and ethical aspects of science is still challenging for many science teachers. In order to support students and teachers in this process, adequate learning and teaching activities are desirable. In the context of a European project called PARRISE we have developed an approach that combines SSIs with inquiry- based learning (called: socio-scientific inquiry-based learning; SSIBL).
Implementing the SSIBL-approach in biology classrooms and teacher training programs is challenging. Many aspects still have to be investigated .We are in need of evidence-based teaching and learning activities to foster informed opinion forming and decision-making in the classroom. Focus of your study can be on aspects such as:
- Fostering democratic dialogue in the classroom
- Dealing with uncertainty
- Reliability of sources/ fake news
- Dealing with the complexity of SSIs / multiple stakeholders
- Introducing students to authentic (local) SSIs
- Involving local stakeholders in students inquiry
- Scaffolding inquiry-based learning
- Dealing with personal values and beliefs, and societal and ethical aspects of science
- Levinson, R. (2018) Introducing socio-scientific inquiry-based learning (SSIBL). School Science Review, 100(371), 31-35.
- Ariza, M.R.; Christodoulou, A.; van Harskamp, M.; Knippels,M.-C.P.J.; Kyza, E.A.; Levinson, R.;Agesilaou, A. (2021)Socio-Scientific Inquiry-Based Learning as a Means toward Environmental Citizenship. Sustainability, 13, 11509. https://doi.org/10.3390/
- Knippels, M.C.P.J. & van Harskamp, M. (2018). An educational sequence for implementing socio-scientific inquiry-based learning (SSIBL). School Science Review, 100 (371), 46-52.
Contact: Wouter van Joolingen (W.R.vanJoolingen@uu.nl)
Biology textbooks typically depict molecular and cellular processes such as enzyme operation and protein synthesis with iconic representations of macro-molecules. Whereas this representation is useful to obtain a global view of the processes there are aspects that are not covered but are important for understanding the essence of the processes involved. For example, apart from the ‘lock and key’ idea of enzyme that is involved in order for molecules to ‘snap’ into each other, the molecules themselves are dynamic structures and their movement within the cells adds to the dynamics. Whereas the textbook representation may give rise to the misconception that molecules display purposeful behavior, a representation that incorporates dynamics can give rise to a more accurate ‘mechanistic way’ of reasoning that is capable of explaining the effects of external factors such as temperature and pH value in the cell.
Virtual reality can provide such a dynamic representation. In an environment where students can play with 3D models of molecular processes and in which they can modify the model, students can experiment with the molecular processes and literary see how they come to life and operate together. In this project we will use SimSketch as a modeling tool with which students can modify the dynamic behavior of the molecules and VR software from the lab of Prof. CAI Yiyu at NTU to display the 3D behavior. The research question is how this combination of representations can be integrated in the biology class.
In a team in which you will work together with students from Windesheim University of Applied Sciences (Zwolle), supervised by Dr. Teresa Dias Pedro Gomes and students from Nanyang Technical University (Singapore), you will develop and evaluate lessons around this topic. The validation of the designed pedagogies and lesson plans will be done via the Lesson Study method as developed by Professor Sui Lin Goei (Windesheim) implementing this method widely in Dutch schools in the Netherlands. The student teams will meet using videoconferences and once a year face-to-face during conferences and workshops to discuss the design of the lessons. Both master theses will focus on subtopics of the study, one will be related to the way students use and appreciate the VR aspects in learning about the molecular processes; the second will focus more on the modeling aspect and the specification of the dynamic behavior of the processes.