Towards conceptual understanding: bringing research findings into the lecture theatre in tertiary science teaching

Pauline M. Ross, Deidre Tronson


Science education has long cherished teaching and learning strategies which actively engage students and create meaningful understanding of abstract concepts. Due to the diverse ways in which science is practised, professional scientists and educators have the natural advantage of being able to use a range of teaching techniques which they assume will help motivate students. However, students’ prior expectations, existing schema and conceptions about the topics being taught and their understanding of learning can help or hinder their conceptual development in all science disciplines. Everyone relies primarily on his/her senses of sight, sound and touch to perceive the world and therefore to learn. Although each person has differing abilities in each mode, the predominant learning style of individuals (e.g., whether visual, auditory or kinesthetic) and its impact on conceptual understanding is often overlooked in tertiary Science teaching. Incorporating the variability in individual learners may help educators determine which strategies assist and which limit an individual’s understanding. Concomitantly, some changes in traditional lecturing practices may be beneficial in large first year university classes in order to improve the learning experience of many of our first-year science students. This is a preliminary study which reports on an investigation into the effectiveness of teaching and learning strategies, based on recent literature, which were developed to cater for individual differences in learning modalities in first-year classes at the University of Western Sydney. The aim of these strategies was to increase the conceptual understanding of abstract concepts such as photosynthesis. Student responses to an open-ended question regarding their overall learning experience indicated that a variety of teaching and learning strategies, which mix auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning modalities with class experience, have been effective in the development of conceptual understanding.

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