Comparing the geographical misconceptions of high school students and university undergraduates
The international research into the nature, emergence, and development of scientific misconceptions is substantial; however, Hungarian educational research lags behind in exploring this phenomenon in detail. The main goals of the present study are to compare the geographical knowledge structure and the misconceptions of two distinctive groups of students: one consisting of Year-9 Hungarian high school students, the other consisting of Hungarian university undergraduates majoring in Geography. The definition of misconception used in the present study is that of E. Korom“s, who states that misconceptions are concepts, systems of concepts, models of certain environmental phenomena that are not in accordance with the generally accepted present-day scientific knowledge; also, misconceptions are deeply rooted in the cognitive structure of children and adults alike, they remain almost intact despite formal education, and, as a result, they are difficult to change (Korom 2002, 139). The survey was pilot tested, and necessary changes were made to improve the efficiency of the diagnostic tool used in the present study, which consists of a background information questionnaire, a word association test, an aptitude test with open-ended questions, and an achievement test. The theme investigated in the present paper is plate tectonics. As the nature of misconceptions is special, mainly qualitative, but also quantitative methods were used when evaluating the surveys. The evaluation process is based on triangulation: the fundamental theory applied is grounded theory. Preliminary results suggest that while culturally induced misconceptions are not present, layman's experience, mistakes in textbooks, flaws in teaches” explanations as well as extensive media coverage of certain topics, and informal learning interfere in the emergence of geographical misconceptions. Also, no major difference is found between the misconceptions of the two groups, despite one of them consisting of Geography BSc students.