30 SES 09 A, Complex and Critical Thinking in ESE
Digitalization and an increasing need for sustainability – hardly any development has shaped society as strongly in recent decades as these two megatrends. Both are characterized by complex relationships between different fields. Teachers need a solid knowledge of the topics they teach as well as a way to encompass the interconnectedness of knowledge and connect students’ new knowledge to their existing knowledge. For this reason, it is of particular importance to address approaches to learning and teaching that are relevant when learning complex issues. These are predominant in sustainable science education. This paper provides an empirically backed discussion of concept mapping tools as a method to visually represent jointed facts in complex knowledge (Novak and Gowin, 1984). Based on a study of 71 school and university students in Luxembourg in 2019/20, insight is provided into participants' sustainability-related interests,attitudes, and understanding of a selected topic (namely ‘Soil and Sustainability’) analysed with a concept mapping tool.
The educational debate on effective ways of understanding learners’ competencies is not new (De Haan, 2010). The discussion has shifted its attention from contents and outcomes towards the processes that shape learning (Norman and Spohrer, 1996). A recent literature review examined different tools for the assessment of students’ sustainability competencies, with the result that 16% of the selected studies used concept maps, whereas the vast majority applied self-assessment and reflective writing (Redman et al., 2021).
Concept maps consist of so-called ‘concepts’ connected by labelled ‘links’. Meaningful units of at least two linked concepts are ‘proposition’. Regarding systems thinking competence, concept mapping is a promising tool for different types of learners: It can be paper-based or digitally generated, it can be used alone or interactively in partner or group work. Due to the emphasis on visualisation, it might stimulate enjoyable learning in sustainable science education for students who do not excel in traditional classroom activities (e.g., reading, reciting, etc.) and can be introduced in formal educational settings and extra-curricular activities (UNESCO, 2012). Digital concept maps easily allow for the reorganisation of the generated propositions during the (co-)creation of maps.
Four classes in three schools (N = 55; 50.9% female; mean age 17) and a group of university students (N = 16; 50% female; mean age 23) participated in our study. The school students participated voluntarily as part of their classes using tablets or computers. University students participated in extracurricular sessions using computers or tablets. Students completed questionnaires on their sustainability-related interests and values. They generated two concept maps (paper-based and digital) on the topic of ‘Soil and Sustainability’, which are scored using a well-established rubric (modified to the topic of soil).
The additional questionnaire enables differentiating between student groups along the axes of gender, socioeconomic and migration backgrounds. In Luxembourg, educational disparities in math, German and French to the disadvantage of migrants and working-class students are well documented (Hadjar et al., 2015). Thus, this paper investigates whether similar disparities occur for knowledge on soil and system competence.
From a theoretical point of view, this study brings together approaches from transformative learning, educational inequality research, and user experience (UX) research. In this way, the paper deals with the following intentions: 1) describing interests and attitudes towards sustainability, 2) analysing and comparing participants’ knowledge about the topic of soil and system competence using (digital) concept maps and, 3) understanding the connections between the features of different mapping tools and learning success. Thus, our study may help to develop (digital) concept mapping tools for teachers and learners.
The field study comprised two parts. In session 1, the 71 participants answered questions about their interests and values related to sustainability, following a Luxembourgish study of students’ views on sustainability conducted ten years earlier (Faber & Boll, 2010). The survey used the 2-MEV scale (Bogner et al., 2015) to measure ecological values on two dimensions: a biocentric view (emphasising the importance of ‘preserving’ the environment) and an anthropocentric view (stating that it is acceptable to ‘utilize’ the environment to the advantage of human beings). Next, the learners received a standardised introduction to concept maps (Novak, 2010) and created a paper-based map indicating their knowledge about ‘soil in sustainability’. In session 2, conducted three to seven days later, the participants learned about the topic ‘soil’ from a textbook extract (Hoffmann, 2018) and a video (IASS). Afterwards, they created a digital concept map on ‘Soil in Sustainability: Is Soil an Existential Resource? ’ using a digital concept map tool currently being developed at the University of Luxembourg. The participants completed user-experience questionnaires (e.g., UEQ by Laugwitz et al., 2008) to further describe their subjective experiences while using the tool. The topic ‘soil’ was chosen as it is less discussed in the media than, for example, climate change. Moreover, soil is usually addressed in geography, which has long emphasised the great importance of ‘systems thinking’. A system is defined as “an entity that maintains its existence and functions as a whole through the interaction of its parts”, including feedback loops (Assaraf & Orion, 2005, p. 519). An example of a feedback loop is ‘reduced soil fertility’ resulting in ‘lower harvests’ that may induce farmers to use ‘more mineral fertilizers’, causing ‘soil contamination’, resulting in ‘reduced soil fertility’, and so on. To analyse the concept maps, we modified a scoring rubric (Besterfield-Sacre et al., 2004) that employed three dimensions (scored from 0 to 3): comprehensiveness (how well the map explains the topic and whether it identifies social, economic, and ecological aspects), organisation (how interconnected the map is and whether it identifies feedback loops) and correctness (whether the concept maps contain misconceptions). For the correctness dimension, we compared the participants’ maps with an expert map. Correlation analyses and t-tests were applied to reveal disparities between diverse student groups and study settings (e.g., computer vs. tablet, various versions of the tool).
The findings from the questionnaire show that sustainability is a relatively important issue, with the most interest afforded to ecological topics (3.1; ranging from 1 for low to 4 for high), followed by social (2.7) and political topics (2.3). Most participants (85%) indicated positive environmental attitudes (based on the 2-MEV model), with medium-to-high tendencies to preserve the environment and low tendencies to use the environment. At least 14% stated that preserving the environment is important but that it should serve humans. Questions about participants’ previous school instructions illustrated that most experienced lessons that encouraged personal reflection and opinions but that were less focused on strengthening awareness about the relationships between economic, social and environmental factors. The concept maps analysis facilitates conclusions about soil knowledge and the extent to which respondents represent their knowledge in an interconnected manner. Only results from the paper-based maps are shown here. The strongest dimension in the maps’ evaluation was ‘comprehensiveness’ (mean: 1.6), followed by ‘correctness’ (1.5) and ‘organization’ (1.4). Slight correlations appeared between map quality and sustainability-related interests and attitudes. Higher scores in the ‘preservation’ of the environment corresponded with higher scores in ‘comprehensiveness’ about the topic of soil. Higher scores in ‘utilization’ related to lower concept map scores in ‘correctness’. Interestingly, no correlation was identified between sustainability-related interests and attitudes and the dimension of ‘organization’ (interconnected maps). However, the participants who reported experiences of interdisciplinary learning at their former schools scored higher in the area of ‘organization’. Preliminary analyses show that concept map scores are not influenced by participants’ socioeconomic, gender, or migration backgrounds. This study also looked at differences between devices and how user experience with digital tools relate to the quality of concept maps. Thus, we provide considerations about the use of digital tools in educational settings.
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