Student representations and conceptions of ecological versus social sciences in a conservation course

Amanda E. Sorensen, Jeffrey Brown, Ashley Alred, Joseph J. Fontaine, Jenny M. Dauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is consensus among scientists that it is important that students understand the nature of science (NOS) and are competent in using primary literature to support understanding of complicated environmental problems. Because environmental issues involve social and ecological complexities, there is a need to create educational frameworks whereby students learn how to integrate and apply knowledge from both natural and social sciences. To explore the interplay between undergraduate students’ conceptions of NOS for ecology and sociology and how students apply discipline-specific knowledge to a socio-ecological issue, we administered a NOS evaluative survey and analyzed data from student modeling practices within the context of a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE). We found that although students held similar conceptions of the NOS for both ecology and sociology disciplines, there were notable differences in how often and how accurately students applied discipline-specific knowledge when modeling a socio-ecological system. Such insight provides guidance for the development of future educational pedagogy that supports students’ ability to integrate knowledge from across natural and social sciences and applies it to real-world environmental issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-149
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Studies and Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Ecology
  • Higher education
  • Learning
  • Nature of science
  • Socio-ecological systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • General Environmental Science


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