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  The Journal of Effective Teaching
an online journal devoted to teaching excellence


Journal of Effective Teaching, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2016  

Akkaraju, S., & Wolf, A. (2016). Teaching Evolution: The Blog as a Liminal Space. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 16(2), 32-46. [Full Text]


A threshold concept is a challenging concept that acts as a doorway leading to deeper understanding and a dramatic shift in perception. A learner that is involved in grasping a threshold concept is said to be undergoing a threshold experience within a liminal space or learning environment. We used the blog as a liminal space for our students to engage with the theory of evolution, which is a threshold concept. In order to teach evolution effectively it is necessary to address both understanding and acceptance of evolutionary theory. To explore the latter in an introductory biology course, we used a series of reflection assignments, submitted by students using a blog format, designed to inform, engage, and probe studentsí views on evolution without dismissing their prior beliefs. Using the blog feature on our learning management system (LMS), students were asked to feel free to express their views on the nature of science (NOS), evidence for evolution and natural selection, and the application of the concept of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) to the evolution-versus-creationism debate without fear of being graded poorly for a wrong response. Grades were based solely on the level of engagement expressed via thoughtful responses to the specific prompts within each reflection assignment. A student reflection rubric was used to grade and assess student performance and allowed us to examine how students integrated evolution into their prior knowledge. We found the blog to be a highly effective online tool to closely analyze studentsí written reflections on a topic that can be both intellectually and emotionally challenging.


Keywords: Threshold concept, liminal space, evolution, student reflection, rubric, blog, NOMA, NOS.