Interview with Ute Harms

“Animations and simulations support students in better understanding particular evolutionary principles and concepts. This counts especially for the so called ‘threshold concepts’, abstract concept underlying the understanding of evolution “.

In our second release of short interviews with some of our amazing invited speakers, Juan Gefaell Borrás talks with Dr. Ute Harms, to give us the opportunity of knowing more about her, and her valuable contribution to enhance the correct understanding of evolution through formal education. This autumn in Barcelona at the #EvoKEBCN21 Meeting.

Interview with Dr. Ute Harms
Full Professor, Department of Biology Education at IPN, Kiel (Germany)

Contributing to the topic: “Challenges and opportunities to improve the scientific literacy on evolution through formal or informal education”

Dear Dr. Harms,

Question. How the theory of evolution has impacted your everyday life as a citizen?

Answer. The theory of evolution as well as my knowledge about evolution biology gives me an orientation regarding several aspects in my life. Among these are health questions as well as questions regarding my everyday behavior in respect to sustainability. Besides these practical aspects it reminds me that humans are just a product of evolution as all other living systems and that the possibility to “succeed in escaping the evolutionary principles” is highly limited. This is especially visible by our confined means to counteract health problems. In this context medicine is nothing else but human’s try, to escape from natural selection and especially in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic we must realize our narrowness. Also, the evolution theory gives us a very, very strong argument for the necessity of an ubiquitous inclusive attitude towards all humans and for the fact that there is no “higher or lower” in the human global community. Thus, the evolution theory offers strong arguments against all kinds of racism and other forms of discrimination.

Q. By participating in EvoKE BCN 21, What do you consider would be your main contribution to increase science literacy in evolution in society?

A. I assume that my contribution will have a rather indirect impact on science literacy in evolution inside our societies. The reason for this is that I try to find obstacles that hinder children, teenagers but also prospective teachers and the public from understanding evolution as well as ways how we can smooth these out. However, we are hardly that far yet to implement these. So, as a scientist I feel my responsibility in providing empirically based evidence for basic problems of and needs for a scientifically valid understanding of evolution.

Juan Gefaell Borrás, University of Vigo

Q. You are one of the most renowned biology educators. In the past, you have worked on the EvoVis project. In your experience, how much did visualizations and animations improved the understanding of the theory of evolution in comparison with traditional methods?


In our studies we found out that visualizations like animations and simulations support students in better understanding particular evolutionary principles and concepts. This counts especially for the so called “threshold concepts”, abstract concept underlying the understanding of evolution (e.g., randomness and probability, deep time).

About Dr. Ute Harms

Dr. Harms is Director at the IPN –Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education and Full Professor for Biology Education at the University of Kiel (Germany) since 2007. She owns a Ph.D. in Cell Biology and has worked as a high school teacher for several years. From 2000 to 2007 she held Chairs for Biology Education at the  University Of  Munich  and  Bremen. As  a  VisitingProfessor(2011  to  2013)  she collaborated  with  her  colleague  Prof.  Lena  Tibell  at Linköping  University  (Sweden)in  the EvoVis project dealing with questions about how to enhance the understanding of evolution focusing on  threshold  concepts and  visualizations.Competitive  grants  she  received until today add up to more than 9 million Euros. Her publication list comprises today more than 160  contributions  to  national  and  international  journals  and  books several  of  them addressing research about evolution teaching and learning.