(1997) Louisiana State University
Areas of Expertise
Botany education and undergraduate biology education
My main research focus is the investigation of people’s knowledge about plants, where and how this information is acquired, and how this may affect their botanical attitudes. This research is an outgrowth of investigations into why students prefer animals and generally ignore plants, which led to an explanation based on visual perception called “Plant Blindness” (Wandersee and Schussler, 2001). The hypothesis is that humans are less likely to pay attention to plants because of differences in their spatial distribution, movement over time, color, perceived danger, and familiarity as compared to animals. My research is testing this hypothesis, as well as gathering baseline information about the status of botany education in K-12 and college classrooms. The ultimate goal is to develop novel curricula to combat this inherent plant blindness of students.
Supporting the hypothesis of plant blindness, recent research in my lab has found that college students preferentially recall more animal versus plant images, even when students are able to name those images with the same accuracy (Schussler and Olzak, 2008). An investigation of two nationally-syndicated elementary science textbook series found that each contain animal photographs that are provided with more specific name labels than comparable plant photographs, which are given generic descriptions such as “tree” or “grass” (Link-Perez et al., in press). Comparison of plant versus animal topics presented in the text of the same textbook series revealed relatively more focus on plant parts as compared to animal parts and animal adaptations as compared to plant adaptations, perhaps indicating why plants are perceived as boring to elementary students (Schussler et al., in review).
My other area of research is student learning in first-year introductory biology classes, and how students come to know the nature of science through their undergraduate careers. The nature of science is the underlying philosophy or values of science that affect how we come to know what we know in science. It is not about knowing the content or process of science (how to DO science) but focuses more on student understanding of theory versus law, observation versus inference, objective versus subjective, etc. Recent studies have identified naive understandings of the nature of science in students in introductory biology; I and four colleagues (including Jim Hickey in Botany) recently received a National Science Foundation Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement grant (phase I) to test curriculum modifications that may improve these understandings. I am also conducting a three-year-long qualitative study of eleven college biology majors’ understanding of the nature of science as they progress through school.
Link-Perez, Melanie A., Vanessa H. Dollo, Kirk M. Weber, and Elisabeth E. Schussler. In press. What's in a Name: Differential Labeling of Plant and Animal Photographs in Two Nationally-Syndicated Elementary Science Textbook Series. International Journal of Science Education.
Winslow, Jeffrey F. and Elisabeth E. Schussler. 2009. The Life Cycle of a Partnership (pp.1-15). In The Art and Science of Partnership (Ed. T. Poetter and Eagle). University Press of America: Lanham, MD.
Schussler, Elisabeth E. 2008. From Flowers to Fruits: How Children's Books Represent Plant Reproduction. International Journal of Science Education 30(12):
Schussler, Elisabeth E. and Lynn Olzak. 2008. It’s Not Easy Being Green: Student Recall of Plant and Animal Images. Journal of Biological Education 42(3): 112-118.
Schussler, Elisabeth E., Lisette E. Torres, Stephen Rybczynski, Gary W. Gerald, Emy Monroe, Purbasha Sarkar, Dhan Shahi, and Muna A. Osman. 2008. Transforming the Teaching of Science Graduate Students Through Reflection. Journal of College Science Teaching 38(1): 32-36.
Schussler, Elisabeth and Jeff Winslow. 2007. Drawing on Students' Knowledge. Science and Children 44:40-44.