Jenny Dauer

Jenny Dauer

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Title Science Literacy
Address 502 Hardin Hall
3310 Holdrege Street
Lincoln NE
Phone 402-318-7349
FAX 402-472-2946
Vitae Download file

I am an assistant professor in science literacy in the School of Natural Resources. I am a researcher in the area of Discipline-Based Science Education Research (DBER), and my research interests are: 1) students' understanding of complex biological and earth systems, and 2) science literacy (described below). I use educational research methods to collect data such as interviews, written assessments and survey instruments to characterize and evaluate student learning. The results are then used to inform educators of improved teaching strategies.

1) Student understanding of complex systems
Students are not blank slates and come into a classroom with knowledge and conceptions that may or may not be helpful in future learning. So, it is important to understand what students know or understand in order to teach them more effectively. In particular, biological and earth systems are complex in nature, with multiple scales or organization, heterogeneous components that have interconnections and invisible dynamic components. I am interested in understanding how students make sense of these systems and learn to do "systems-thinking." I have studied this in several contexts:

  • Students' understanding of matter and energy: I've collaborated with several colleagues at different institutions to develop theoretical frameworks to describe how students' explanation or argumentation practices about carbon-transforming processes (photosynthesis, cellular respiration, combustion, etc.) increases in sophistication as students learn. For example, I have investigated explanations that students give about matter tracing in plant growth experiments. Additionally, I've written extensive middle and high school curriculum to help students learn about matter and energy ( . Most recently I've investigated students' tracing of matter and energy in human energy systems in the context of a novel program to raise awareness of human behaviors that are linked to carbon emissions called Classrooms Take Charge (
  • Pollination systems knowledge: In collaboration with colleagues in the Entomology Department, we are developing a framework that describes undergraduate students' knowledge of pollination systems. This framework will be useful for assessing future educational activities and programming around pollinator conservation.
  • Canid species distribution and conservation: In collaboration with biologists in the School of Natural Resources, we are studying students' engagement in a citizen science or Classroom Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) project to collect camera trap data on canid species in Nebraska ( The camera trap data will be used to help biologists map the at-risk Swift fox species. This project affords an opportunity to research students understanding of complex interactions between the landscape, human action and ecosystem community dynamics, as well as student thinking about issues of conservation and the role of scientific research.

2) Scientific literacy and decision-making
Science literacy has three components: scientific knowledge, scientific competency (e.g. using scientific evidence) and scientific contexts (e.g. life situations involving science and technology). I'm interested in the interaction among these three components. The question that drives my research is, what is the role of science education in developing a scientifically literate public that uses scientific knowledge and evidence in civic discourse and decision-making?

The form that this research is currently taking is to investigate students' decision-making about complex socioscientific issues (SSI's). SSI's are complex issues that are important to society and have components of science that inform them, and in particular, I am investigating SSI's of water resources, energy use, biodiversity and conservation and food production. I am using social and cognitive psychology and decision-sciences theory to help understand what knowledge, skills and values students bring to bear in their decision-making about what society "should do" about an SSI.

My background:

Before coming to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I was a post-doc in the environmental literacy research group at Michigan State University. There I served as the project director for Carbon TIME (Transformations in Matter and Energy) and developed research-based science curriculum for middle and high school students.

My graduate work included a Ph.D. in forest science at Oregon State University and a M.S. in ecology at Penn State University. Both degrees focused on the role of calcium in biogeochemical cycling. I investigated the role of calcium-oxalate in nutrient cycling and stable isotope ratios in forests, and compared tree species differential uptake of calcium.

I have had an interest in science education for a long time. Before my graduate work, I received a bachelor's in Secondary Education with emphasis in biology and environmental sciences at Penn State University and worked in informal K-12 education at the Franklin Institute Science Museum.

Selected Publications

Dauer, J., Dauer, J. 2016. A framework for understanding the characteristics of complexity in biology. International Journal of STEM Education,.3(13). Online
Dauer, J., Forbes, C. 2016. Making decisions about complex socioscientific issues: a multidisciplinary science course. Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal. 8:5-12. Online
Dauer, J., Lute, M., Straka, O. 2017. Indicators of informal and formal decision-making about a socioscientific issue. International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology. 5(2):124-138. Online

Educational Background

  • BS - Penn State University, Secondary Education, Biology and Environmental Science (2000)
  • MS - Penn State University, Ecology (2005)
  • PhD - Oregon State University, Forest Science (2012)


  • 2017 – Holling Family Award for Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence awarded by College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources | University of Nebraska-Lincoln 
  • 2016 – 2016-2017 Research Development Fellows Program (RDFP) awarded by UNL Office of Research and Economic Development 
  • 2016 – Great Plains Fellows awarded by Center for Great Plains Studies, UNL 

SNR Mission Area(s)

  • Applied Ecology

Affiliations (index)

Professional Organizations

  • Ecology Society of America
  • National Association for Research in Science Teaching
  • North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture
  • Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research

Notable Websites

Areas of Interest

  • Science Literacy
  • Supporting student decision-making
  • Socioscientific issues
  • Systems thinking
  • Student learning about matter and energy
  • Media literacy
  • Student understanding of socio-ecological systems
  • Teaching and curriculum development
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Ecosystem ecology

Currently this page only displays grants that were awarded on 1/1/2009 to the present. If a grant was awarded prior to 1/1/2009 and is still active, it will not be displayed on this page.

Grant Title North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Annual Conference
Starting Date 6/21/2016
Principal Investigators
Jenny Dauer
Ending Date 6/24/2016
Funding Level $500.00
Funding Source IANR Travel Grants

Grant Title Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research
Starting Date 7/14/2016
Principal Investigators
Jenny Dauer
Ending Date 7/17/2016
Funding Level $500.00
Funding Source IANR Travel Grants

Grant Title Working with Rural Students to Document Swift Fox on Nebraska Ranches
Starting Date 6/9/2015
Principal Investigators
TJ Fontaine
Jenny Dauer
Ending Date 6/30/2018
Funding Level $258,757.00
Funding Source Nebraska Environmental Trust


Graduate Program(s)

Master of Science in Natural Resource Sciences

including specializations in
  • Human Dimensions

Doctor of Philosophy in Natural Resource Sciences

including specializations in
  • Applied Ecology

Courses Taught
Course Number Course Title Fall Even Years Fall Odd Years Spring Even Years Spring Odd Years Summer Session Cross Listing
SCIL 101 Science and Decision-making for a Complex World X X X X n/a
SCIL 488 Teaching Undergraduate Science X X n/a
SCIL 888 Teaching Undergraduate Science X X n/a