COLLEGE STUDENTS' UNDERSTANDING OF RIVER PROCESSES AND FEATURES
Students held conceptions for nine river topics and 17 subtopics. Topics contained one or more subtopics. Students' conceptions for the subtopics were classified into scientific and alternative categories. The subtopics were categorized as observable feature, observable process/cause, difficult to observe feature, or difficult to observe process/cause. Some features and processes/causes were both observable and difficult to observe.
The subtopics for which students did not hold any alternative conceptions fell into two categories: observable features and observable processes/causes. With one exception, students held alternative conceptions for river processes/causes, many of which were completely or partially difficult to observe. The one exception was that one student held an alternative conception for a feature (destination of rivers) that was categorized as a difficult to observe feature for the student.
Multiple factors may simultaneously influence the conceptual development process. A student's direct experience with natural phenomena may increase a student's understanding of those phenomena. Additionally, college students' mental models of geologic phenomena may be inadequate for them to understand some geologic processes and features. It is not possible to determine from the data collected in this study if a lack of direct experience, inappropriate mental models, or some other factor influenced the students' development of alternative conceptions for river processes/causes and difficult to observe features. Future research should further investigate the possible factors that influence students' conceptual development and the interaction among the factors.