Empirical Research, Emerging Strand: A Unified Cross-Domain Approach to Studying Learner Understanding of Emergence

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Currently, there are no integrated empirically based theories of how learners represent emergent systems, nor is there a common set of tools and methods for assessing learning understanding. We could advance knowledge in this area more rapidly and efficiently if we had a domain-general theoretical frame to apply across contexts. Guided by hypotheses that draw upon prior research into learning about complexity and emergence as well as other relevant work in development, social psychology, and cognitive science, we will develop and evaluate an inventory template that could be adapted to specific phenomena or used to assess understanding of emergence as an abstract phenomenon.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is cross-sectional and comparative and is designed to generate evidence which is descriptive, associative/correlational (quasi-experimental), causal (experimental). This project collects original data using personal observation and weblogs; online and paper and pencil self-completion questionnaires; and face-to-face informal interviews. Instruments assessing knowledge and understanding of emergent behavior will be developed as part of the project. These will take the form of interview protocols and structured assessments. Once the template is created, paper-and-pencil and online instrument administration will be used to assess psychometric characteristics

Verbal protocols will be coded and analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively to develop the inventory template. Data collected using the proof of concept instruments will be analyzed quantitatively regarding reliability and qualitatively regarding validity. The focus will primarily be on undergraduate learning. The team has chosen examples from geology (erosion), chemistry (the relationship of temperature and pressure in gases), natural selection (the evolution of mimetic abilities), and psychology (detecting and avoiding outsiders) as contexts to conduct their research.


Findings will be added as they become available.

Other Products: 

An inventory template for the creation of instruments to assess knowledge and understanding of emergent phenomena as well as several proof of concept instruments addressing specific phenomena.