Pedagogies of Professors Teaching Evolution at Secular Versus Christian Colleges

Saturday, 14 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Elizabeth Barnes, Arizona State University, Scottsdale, AZ
Around 1/3 of biology students and 2/3 of pre-service teachers reject evolution, which is arguably the foundation of biology. A perceived conflict with religion is identified as the source of rejection, but it is unclear whether biology educators are trying to mitigate this conflict. The objective of this study was to identify if and how college professors are engaging with students’ religious concerns about evolution.  42 semi-structured interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of biology professors at a secular R1 university, multiple secular community colleges, and multiple Christian universities. The interviews explored how professors discuss topics related to religion and evolution and if they believe helping students to accept evolution is part of their teaching goals. Transcriptions of interviews were coded using content analysis, revealing themes across interviews and differences between instructors at varying institutions. Analyses revealed that instructors at the secular university and community colleges were not engaging in religious students’ beliefs, evidenced by reports that they spend almost no class time discussing religious concerns about evolution. Further, these instructors expressed trepidations about addressing issues of religion in their classroom. They perceived discussions about religion to be inappropriate and had a hard time relating to the concerns many students have about the religious implications of evolution. In contrast, biology professors at Christian universities have developed several sophisticated strategies that they use on a regular basis to establish rapport with their religious students. Many of these professors said their own personal journey of working through a religious conflict with evolution helped them relate to their religious students’ struggles. Further, 80% of the professors at Christian universities said it was part of their goal to help students accept evolution, while only 40% of professors at secular institutions said the same. Many instructors at secular institutions may have a hard time establishing rapport with their religious students based on their lack of experience with and ability to relate to the internal conflict that many of their students experience. This implies that instructors might benefit from studying the pedagogies of evolution educators working at Christian Universities, whose strategies could improve religious students’ attitudes towards evolution. It also implies that biology faculty at most institutions could do more to promote acceptance of evolution.