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University students’ conceptual understanding and application of meiosis Lai, Patrick K. T.


Studies in the general literature of genetics learning have identified the students' understanding of meiosis for diploid organisms at both the high school and college levels. It was generally believed by these researchers that a canonical, conceptual understanding of meiosis is sufficient for students to advance in genetics. No prior research has documented the students' application of knowledge of meiosis to a realistic genetics problem that involves haploid organisms. This study has extended the genetics learning literature by identifying some of the problems which students encounter when asked to explain their conceptual understanding and when solving a problem from their undergraduate genetics programme. In particular, the study focused on the topic area of meiosis. Three areas of students' understanding were scrutinized: their conceptualizations of meiosis for a diploidcell; their approaches to addressing a genetics problem which involved a haploid organism; and, the possible relationships between the approaches and the meiosis conceptualizations. The research approach taken was embedded in a research perspective known as "phenomenography" (Marton, 1981). Phenomenography is the study of the qualitatively different ways in which people conceptualize various aspects of phenomena. The data source for the study included a set of interviews conducted with ten undergraduate genetics students using two different task contexts. These included i) a meiosis task and ii) an applied genetics question that involved the concept of meiosis, using a haploid organism. The outcomes of the study yielded an identification and description of the students' conceptualizations of meiosis and a description of their approaches to addressing the genetics problem. The findings indicated that a good understanding of meiosis is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the students to solve the novel problem. A close examination of the successful approaches revealed that a sound understanding of the biology of the haploid organism and of the processes of non-disjunction and crossing-over were necessary for the students to generate reasonable hypotheses about the data given in this problem. Implications for further research and for the teaching of genetics are discussed.

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