PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Using Documentaries to Teach Evolutionary Theory

Most Americans don’t accept evolution. Even those who do accept the theory don’t understand it. This the case despite dozens of beautiful documentaries and huge investments in informal education. Why the disconnect? We think there are two main problems. First, the existing documentaries are not designed to take full advantage of what we know about how people learn. Second, they do not make full use of modern documentary techniques. 

We are creating a series of short (2-3 minute) documentary clips about evolution in the Galápagos that address both of these issues. We use hand-held camera work and diegetic narration to illustrate key concepts, using the camera as a tool of scientific discovery. Unlike existing films on evolution, our project takes full advantage of what today’s researchers know about how people learn and uses modern filmmaking techniques not only to teach about evolution but also to engage viewers in the scientific method itself. It is our hypothesis that this style of filmmaking will be more effective in increasing the public’s understanding of evolutionary theory.

By the time of the PSA, we will have tested these clips’ teaching effectiveness and will be using this information to begin planning a longer documentary short.

We propose a poster that explains the rationale of our project, discusses the data we have collected, and actually screens our documentary materials (we will have to figure out how to make a digital poster). 

Author Information:

Michael Weisberg    
University of Pennsylvania

Deena Weisberg    
University of Pennsylvania

Ernesto Vaca    
Galápagos Naturalist Guides


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