Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James H. Wandersee


Exploration of meaningful learning of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) followed instruction by a researcher-developed hypermedia computer program that incorporated human constructivist principles and a "science-in-fiction" chapter of a novel that described PCR. Human constructivism is the Ausubel-Novak-Gowin (1997) meaningful learning theory that supports science learning through graphic representations and multiple examples. Science-in-fiction is a new genre of fiction introduced by the prominent scientist, Carl Djerassi, to engender an appreciation for science, and its ethical dilemmas. Chapter 19 of Djerassi's 1994 novel, The Bourbaki Gambit, was placed into hypermedia format to standardize the presentation. As part of a clinical microbiology course in the medical technology curriculum at a major medical center in the Deep South, 10 undergraduates participated in this study. Each first read The Bourbaki Gambit, and then half of the participants experienced the human constructivist approach first (the PCR group) while the others first encountered the science-in-fiction approach (the Chapter 19 group). For the rest, the order of presentation was reversed, so that all experienced both programs. Students' explanations while using the computer were videotaped. Students were tested and interviewed before experiencing either program, after their first instructional session, and again after the second instructional session. These students were also assessed on their knowledge of the nature of science by taking the Nature of Science Questionnaire, before and after instruction (Roach, 1993) and interviewed as a cross-check on its reliability. Students' preferred learning approaches were determined using Schmeck's Inventory of Learning Processes (Schmeck, Ribich, & Ramanaiah, 1977). Data were collected and analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively using appropriate verbal analysis techniques (Chi, 1997). All but three students reached a structural level of PCR biological literacy. A mean of 79% of the concepts identified as necessary was attained by participants after experiencing both approaches. The Chapter 19 science-in-fiction group scored slightly better than those who experienced the PCR program first, indicating that the chapter served as an advance organizer when used first, but inhibited mastery when used second. Significant conceptual change about the nature of science was not detected, even though most students demonstrated deep and/or elaborative learning styles.