Updated: May 4, 2020
With the help of my fantastic collaborators, Jeff Greene, Greg Trevors, and Jamie Algina, our paper, "Don’t Take It Personally? The Role of Personal Relevance in Conceptual Change" was published online today in the Journal of Experimental Education (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00220973.2020.1754152)
This study cost a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I had so many complicated research questions that it was difficult to decide what to focus on, especially because each research question was grounded in different research literatures. Did I want to focus on teacher professional development? Testing the conceptual model I created a while back? The treatment effect of different texts? Whether instilling doubt and creating personal relevance matters? The role of affect in conceptual change? The mediational effect of systematic processing on conceptual change? So many different facets of this study that I got bogged down in the details.
.After much reflection and wise guidance from my co-authors and reviewers, I realized that what I really cared about first was the treatment effect--that's why we had four different treatment groups. And what we found is important: instilling doubt in teachers' beliefs--making what they were about to read personally relevant to them ("augmented activation")--was sufficient to cause conceptual change. The need for refutational text--the gold standard in conceptual change studies in science education--was superfluous. Expository text--regular narrative text--was sufficient, once the readers' beliefs were challenged
And beliefs WERE challenged--our manipulation check showed that preservice and inservice teachers felt challenged by the intervention.
Surprisingly, refutational text led to LESS systematic process of text than did plain old expository text. That was a counterfactual finding. Perhaps once doubt was triggered, the refutational text was overkill and caused less questioning of the text, whereas the expository text served as a ground for the reader to work out the doubt caused by the augmented activation intervention.
Interestingly, though participants definitely had emotional reactions to the text, affect did not predict conceptual change. Yet, the CAMCC model still accounted for 41% of the variance in posttest conceptual change, which was a large effect. So some of the paths of the CAMCC model were supported by this study. The role of affect needs further investigation.
The implications of this study for teacher education, and changing core conceptions, are huge--if targeting personal beliefs leads to greater change, then instructors ought to know what prior conceptions and beliefs students are bringing into the classroom.