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Board 25: WORK IN PROGRESS: Understanding Pre-service Teacher Beliefs about Vaccination Using and Modifying Group-based Computational Simulations

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Poster Session

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Anthony J Petrosino Jr University of Texas, Austin

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Anthony Petrosino is a learning scientist and an associate professor of STEM education and the Elizabeth G. Gibb endowed fellow at The University of Texas at Austin. He was a seven-year member of the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded VaNTH (a consortium of Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University, University of Texas, and Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology), ERC, and a principle investigator of a U.S. Department of Education funded PT3 (Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology) grant. He is currently the co-principle investigator on the NSF-funded UTeach Engineering grant (MSP) and the Beyond Blackboards grant (ITEST). His research interests include informal science learning, engineering education, and the development of expertise. While at The University of Texas at Austin, he helped establish the UTeach Natural Sciences Teacher Preparation Program. His research articles have appeared in the Journal of Science Education and Technology, The Journal of the Learning Sciences, Mathematical Thinking and Learning, Educational Computing Research, and The American Educational Research Journal.

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Maximilan Kolbe Sherard The University of Texas at Austin

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Graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin studying STEM Education

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Jason R Harron University of Texas, Austin Orcid 16x16

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Jason Harron is a Ph.D. Candidate at The University of Texas at Austin. His research interests that focus on the intersection of creativity, technology, and learning. Jason's dissertation research explores how collaborative design-based tasks can facilitate the emergence of creativity within complex systems. By fostering curiosity, play, and tinkering, his work seeks to develop a better understanding of how to support people as they develop agency, identity, and ownership throughout their life-long learning.

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The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 56,738 kindergarten through 12th grade students entered the 2017-2018 school year having been unvaccinated for non-medical reasons [1]. The parents of these children have filed a conscientious exemption affidavit for one or more vaccines and are colloquially known as “anti-vaxxers” [2]. While this figure only represents 1.07% of the student body of Texas, a closer analysis shows the heterogenous composition of unvaccinated students in schools. For example, Austin, Texas represents an interesting case where vaccination rates range from 100% in some schools to below 50% in others, posing a disparate threat to the health of students [1].

Teachers are an untapped resource for engaging parents in scientific and social discussion about the importance of vaccinating children who attend schools. However, pre-service teacher training, particularly of elementary science teachers, rarely provides opportunities to discuss misconceptions of vaccination and disease transmission. Moreover, systemic reasoning about disease transmission and vaccination can be supported by creating, using, or evaluating computational models and simulations; however, this type of engagement is infrequent in elementary pre-service teacher programs [3]. Working with 40 pre-service teachers enrolled in an elementary science education course, this study seeks to determine: (a) what preconceptions participants hold about disease transmission and vaccination; and (b) how do these preconceptions emerge when they engage in systemic reasoning by modifying computational models to represent new scenarios.

To understand preconceptions, a review of literature containing surveys about vaccination and disease transmission was performed to glean important questions and themes to investigate. This literature review informed the development of an open-ended survey designed to probe participants’: (a) understanding of how diseases move through a system of people; (b) understanding of how vaccines work; (c) beliefs about the consequences of using vaccines; and (d) predictions of what outcomes could emerge from fewer vaccinated children in a school environment.

After the survey, participants were given an opportunity to experiment with a participatory agent-based computational model which allowed the users to simulate various vaccination rates in a system of homogenously distributed individuals. Participants discussed the affordances and limitations of the model, as well as their understandings about the model’s accuracy. Participants were then tasked to modify the computational model to simulate the outcome of differing vaccination rates at three other schools; similar to the disparate cases found in Austin, Texas.

Participants were provided planning documents, which included the text-code of the original model and paper to draw new models, to aid in their modification of the original simulation. These planning documents and modifications were analyzed to identify patterns in how participants modified their computational model and how their preconceptions either emerged or changed in the construction of this new computational model. Results from this research are will help better address the importance of uncovering how preconceptions or misconceptions about vaccinations can travel with pre-service teachers to their future classrooms. Based on this study, further research should be conducted to address how computational modeling can impact misconceptions related to vaccinations with pre-service science teachers.

[1] J. Hellerstedt, “Annual report of immunization status of students. DSHS Immunization unit,” Texas Department of State Health Services. [Online]. Available: [Accessed Oct. 14, 2018]. [2] A. Kata, “A postmodern pandora’s box: Anti-vaccination misinformation on the internet,” Vaccine, vol. 28, no. 7, pp. 1709-1716. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2009.12.022 [3] C. V. Schwarz, “Developing preservice elementary teachers’ knowledge and practices through modeling-centered scientific inquiry,” Science Education, vol. 93, no. 4, pp. 720–744, Jul. 2009. doi:10.1002/sce.20324

Petrosino, A. J., & Sherard, M. K., & Harron, J. R. (2019, June), Board 25: WORK IN PROGRESS: Understanding Pre-service Teacher Beliefs about Vaccination Using and Modifying Group-based Computational Simulations Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida.

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