This R&D laboratory focuses on improving science learning and science literacy via Visual Probes, Templates, and Filters.™
The Laboratory coined this phrase to encapsulate the various roles that the visual knowledge representations and visually-based instructional media it designs and tests can play in promoting understanding of biology and improving biology learning.
Although his own research in this area began in 1980, the 15° Lab was founded by Dr. Jim Wandersee of LSU in 1996 for the ultimate purpose of helping today's K-12 and college students understand the big ideas in contemporary life sciences, and to enjoy doing so. Later, the mission was expanded to improving public understanding of science in informal science education venues.
To these ends, he circumscribed the primary mission of the 15° Laboratory to be
1. Conducting science education research and instructional design targeted at improving students' learning of important biological (and especially botanical) concepts, principles, and theories via visual probes, templates, and filters.
2. Encouraging his own biology education Ph.D. students to
A. pursue a Ph.D. research project within the scope of the Laboratory's mission, and
B. to establish their own research programs focused upon particular key content topics within the life sciences that learners find most challenging--linking their research programs to human constructivist learning theory, cognitive mapping theory, visual cognition research findings, and Tufte's 4-volume theory of information architecture.
The 15° Laboratory was inspired, in part, by the ideas of the noted science learning theorist and life science educator, Professor emeritus Joseph D. Novak. Novak held joint appointments in Biology and Education at Cornell University--where Dr. Jim Wandersee did seven summers of post-doc work under him.
Dr. Novak is well-known as the interpreter and elaborator of the Assimilation Theory of Meaningful Learning originally advanced by psychologist David Ausubel. This theory is now known as "Human Constructivism" and is explicated in the recent book TEACHING SCIENCE FOR UNDERSTANDING (Academic Press), edited and authored by J. J. Mintzes, J. H. Wandersee, and J. D. Novak. Joel Mintzes is retired Professor of Biological Sciences at the California State University--Chico. Professor Novak was Dr. Wandersee's mentor in his post-doctoral work at Cornell University during the 1980s, and the team continued its writing projects-- including the book, ASSESSING SCIENCE UNDERSTANDING (Academic Press). Lab members have research chapters published in the HANDBOOK OF COLLEGE SCIENCE TEACHING (NSTA-Macmillan, 2006) edited by J.J. Mintzes and W. Leonard.
The work of the Laboratory has also been heavily influenced by the visual thought of the respected information design theorist, Edward R. Tufte, of Yale University--author of the theoretic quadrilogy: THE VISUAL DISPLAY OF QUANTITATIVE INFORMATION, ENVISIONING INFORMATION, VISUAL EXPLANATIONS, and BEAUTIFUL EVIDENCE. Dr. Wandersee took two information architecture courses under Professor Tufte. Tufte considers exemplary scientific graphics to be "cognitive art."
In this respect, Tufte's ideas and those of the Laboratory are quite compatible with the psychological/visual art perspectives of another influential theorist, Robert L. Solso, author of COGNITION AND THE VISUAL ARTS.
The Laboratory also uses Keith Kenney's (2009) VISUAL COMMUNICATION RESEARCH DESIGNS methodology, plus selected mixed methodologies.
Drs. Jim Wandersee, Dennis Wissing, and Lynda Britton wrote and edited a leading bioeducation technology textbook--BIOINSTRUMENTATION: TOOLS FOR UNDERSTANDING BIOLOGY, published by National Association of Biology Teachers Press.
Professor Kathleen M. Fisher (KMF), a biologist in the Department of Biology at San Diego State University, continues to influence the Laboratory's thinking through her biology education books, computer software, and expert advice on representing large knowledge biological knowledge bases in the form of node-based, computerized semantic networks.
The book, MAPPING BIOLOGY KNOWLEDGE, was co-authored by Dr. Kathleen Fisher, Dr. Jim Wandersee, and Dr. David Moody; it was published by Kluwer Academic Publishers (2000, paperback: 2002) and is the only book in existence devoted exclusively to this life science content topic.
From this brief synopsis, it should be obvious that the Laboratory conducts theory-driven, evidence-based research and development of visual instructional materials. It works primarily at the intersections of (a) visual cognition, (b) historical and contemporary scientific knowledge representation, and (c) human constructivist-based biology education.
Across the years, over 50 graduate students have pursued their Ph.D.s under the aegis of the Lab. These members of the Lab continue its mission, and promote research initiated by the late Dr. Wandersee. Professor Renee M. Clary, Mississippi State University, serves as the current Lab Director.