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Exploring the application of an evolutionary educational complex systems framework to teaching and learning about issues in the science and technology classroom

, University of Toronto , Canada

University of Toronto . Awarded


Understanding the world through a complex systems lens has recently garnered a great deal of interest in many knowledge disciplines. In the educational arena, interactional studies, through their focus on understanding patterns of system behaviour including the dynamical processes and trajectories of learning, lend support for investigating how a complex systems approach can inform educational research. This study uses previously existing literature and tools for complex systems applications and seeks to extend this research base by exploring learning outcomes of a complex systems framework when applied to curriculum and instruction.

It is argued that by applying the evolutionary dynamics of variation, interaction and selection, complexity may be harnessed to achieve growth in both the social and cognitive systems of the classroom. Furthermore, if the goal of education, i.e., the social system under investigation, is to teach for understanding, conceptual knowledge of the kind described in Popper's (1972; 1976) World 3, needs to evolve. Both the study of memetic processes and knowledge building pioneered by Bereiter (cf. Bereiter, 2002) draw on the World 3 notion of ideas existing as conceptual artifacts that can be investigated as products outside of the individual mind providing an educational lens from which to proceed. The curricular topic addressed is the development of an ethical understanding of the scientific and technological issues of genetic engineering.

11 grade 8 students are studied as they proceed through 40 hours of curricular instruction based on the complex systems evolutionary framework. Results demonstrate growth in both complex systems thinking and content knowledge of the topic of genetic engineering. Several memetic processes are hypothesized to have influenced how and why ideas change. Categorized by factors influencing either reflective or non-reflective selection, these processes appear to have exerted differential effects on students' abilities to think and act in complex ways at various points throughout the study. Finally, an analysis of winner and loser memes is offered that is intended to reveal information about the conceptual system—its strengths and deficiencies—that can help educators assess curricular goals and organize and construct additional educational activities.


Yoon, S.A. Exploring the application of an evolutionary educational complex systems framework to teaching and learning about issues in the science and technology classroom. Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto. Retrieved October 17, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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