Frances Quinn

  • Exploring structure and meaning in students’ descriptions of meiosis, using the two-learning cycle per mode version of the SOLO model

    Frances Quinn
    University of New England

    Session 2f

    Tuesday 4 September 2007, 09.00-10.00

    Research paper

    Themes: Better understanding of the discipline,

    Exploring qualitative differences in students’ understanding of complex concepts is central to a better understanding of learning and teaching in tertiary biology. Both phenomenography and the SOLO taxonomy have been argued as suitable for this purpose (Hazel et al., 2002, p. 748), and further research into the use of SOLO in the tertiary context advocated (Boulton-Lewis, 1995, p. 216). It has also been argued, though, that the “recurrent problem” of differences in meaning within SOLO structural levels (Biggs & Collis, 1982, p. 203) is a limitation of SOLO, and that phenomenography is therefore a preferable alternative measure of learning outcome (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999, p. 120; 1991, p. 273).

    Given this background, this paper will:

    1. review recent developments in the SOLO model and its apparent parallels with phenomenography
    2. describe an application of a relatively recent version of the SOLO model little-used in the tertiary context, in exploring students’ understandings of the biological process of meiosis.
    3. discuss the findings of this study, including its relation to the structure and meaning aspects of students’ descriptions of scientific concepts.

    1. SOLO and phenomenography

    The paper will briefly describe the changes in SOLO model (e.g., Biggs & Collis, 1991; Pegg & Davey, 1998), especially the most recent two-learning-cycles version (as described in, e.g., Pegg & Davey, 1998; Pegg & Tall, 2002, 2005). The hierarchically related levels of SOLO show some similarities to the structural differences and logical relations found between categories of description in phenomenography. Definitions of both phenomenographic “conceptions” and SOLO levels emphasise structural aspects defined by the number and combination of focal “elements” in the response/description. The phenomenographic “knowledge object” (Entwistle & Marton, 1994, p. 168) also has its SOLO parallel in the “knowledge entity” which forms the transition from a relational to a more complex unistructural form of understanding in a further cycle (Pegg & Tall, 2001, cited in Pegg, 2003, p. 247; Pegg & Tall, 2002, 2005).

    2. SOLO categories of students’ understanding of meiosis.

    Students’ understanding of meiosis was explored by categorising 575 written responses to target meiosis questions in unit assessment tasks, using the most recent two-cycle per mode version of the SOLO model. The categories of response and their groups are described in detail in Quinn (2006), Quinn, Pegg and Panizzon (in prep.), and will be summarised in this paper. The students’ written responses fell into three broad groups, which were consistent with the two-learning-cycle per mode SOLO model.

    3. Discussion and implications of results

    The paper will describe the relationship between structure and meaning found in the SOLO levels, and discuss these in relation to the equivocal results of the only other study in tertiary science using the two-cycle per mode version of SOLO (described in Panizzon, 2003; Panizzon & Pegg, 2002).The relationship between meaning and structure of SOLO levels may relate both to the nature of the concept under investigation and to the finer-grained model of SOLO being used. The fine-grained use of SOLO, though time-consuming, may have advantages where structure reflects meaning, particularly in facilitating organisation of elements within student descriptions of complex scientific phenomena.

    (Reference list available on request)