This study examines what adults and secondary school children know about Covid-19, viruses in general, and vaccination. We speculated that the intense media coverage and the possibly more virology-focused biology education at school – stimulated by this pandemic – might have had a measurable impact on knowledge and attitude concerning virology and vaccination. Here, we report key results from two cross-sectional online surveys: an Austrian-wide study (A) targeting adults (N = 1027) and a second study (B) with secondary school students (N = 1728). While Covid-19 related knowledge was mediocre, answers to items testing for a more comprehensive understanding of virology and vaccination displayed dramatic knowledge gaps. We also identified several misconceptions. For example, several participants denied the existence of SARS-CoV-2. Vaccination damage was highly over-, and the herd immunity threshold for measles was strongly underrated. Many participants defined viruses as unicellular organisms or bacteria. Several believed that viruses could be killed by antibiotics. The majority of participants were unable to identify viruses among drawings of viruses, bacteria and pro- and eukaryotic cells. Knowledge was significantly correlated with the level of education/grade. There was no influence of school location but of school type: lower-grade high school students performed significantly better than their same-age peers from middle school. Willingness to become vaccinated was significantly correlated with knowledge. Many participants stated that the school had not sufficiently informed them about viruses. Thus, virus-related school education must highly improve to enable individuals to correctly assess health-related information, counter fake news and come to scientifically informed decisions. Finally, we discuss one of the most important misconceptions (viruses as bacteria-like) in the light of conceptual change theory. Based on this framework, we suggest possible methods for teaching virology.
- Conceptual change
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
Ainsworth, S., Prain, V., & Tytler, R. (2011). Science education. Drawing to learn in science. Science, 333(6046), 1096–1097. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1204153
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. (2014). Public trust in vaccines: Defining a research agenda. American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1987). The psychology of written composition. Lawrence Erlbaum.
Bracko, M., & Simon, U. K. (2022). Virus-related knowledge in Covid-19 times – results from two cross-sectional studies in Austria and implications for school. International Journal of Biological Sciences, 18(4), 1627–1650. https://doi.org/10.7150/ijbs.69224
Brattås, P. L., Jönsson, M. E., Fasching, L., Nelander Wahlestedt, J., Shahsavani, M., Falk, R., Falk, A., Jern, P., Parmar, M., & Jakobsson, J. (2017). Trim28 controls a gene regulatory network based on endogenous retroviruses in human neural progenitor cells. Cell Reports, 18(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2016.12.010
Brüssow, H. (2017). Phage therapy for the treatment of human intestinal bacterial infections: Soon to be a reality? Expert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 11(9), 785–788. https://doi.org/10.1080/17474124.2017.1342534
Cassini, A., Högberg, L. D., Plachouras, D., Quattrocchi, A., Hoxha, A., Simonsen, G. S., Colomb-Cotinat, M., Kretzschmar, M. E., Devleesschauwer, B., Cecchini, M., Ouakrim, D. A., Oliveira, T. C., Struelens, M. J., Suetens, C., Monnet, D. L., Strauss, R., Mertens, K., Struyf, T., Catry, B., et al. (2019). Attributable deaths and disability-adjusted life-years caused by infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the EU and the European economic area in 2015: A population-level modelling analysis. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 19(1), 56–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(18)30605-4
Di Martino, G., Di Giovanni, P., Di Girolamo, A., Scampoli, P., Cedrone, F., D’Addezio, M., Meo, F., Romano, F., Di Sciascio, M. B., & Staniscia, T. (2020). Knowledge and attitude towards vaccination among healthcare workers: A multicenter cross-sectional study in a southern Italian region. Vaccine, 8(2), 248. https://doi.org/10.3390/vaccines8020248
diSessa, A. A. (1988). Knowledge in pieces. In G. Forman & P. B. Pufall (Eds.), Constructivism in the computer age (pp. 49–70). Lawrence Erlbaum.
diSessa, A. A. (1993). Toward an epistemology of physics. Cognition and Instruction, 10(2/3), 105–225. https://doi.org/10.1080/07370008.1985.9649008
Dumais, N., & Hasni, A. (2009). High school intervention for influenza biology and epidemics/pandemics: Impact on conceptual understanding among adolescents. CBE Life Sciences Education, 8(1), 62–71. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.08-08-0048
Freeman, D., Waite, F., Rosebrock, L., Petit, A., Causier, C., East, A., Jenner, L., Teale, A.-L., Carr, L., Mulhall, S., Bold, E., & Lambe, S. (2022). Coronavirus conspiracy beliefs, mistrust, and compliance with government guidelines in England. Psychological Medicine, 52(2), 251–263. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291720001890
Galbraith, D. (2009). Cognitive models of writing. German as a Foreign Language, 2-3, 7–22.
Gualano, M. R., Olivero, E., Voglino, G., Corezzi, M., Rossello, P., Vicentini, C., Bert, F., & Siliquini, R. (2019). Knowledge, attitudes and beliefs towards compulsory vaccination: A systematic review. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, 15(4), 918–931.
Hand, B., Hohenshell, L., & Prain, V. (2007). Examining the effect of multiple writing tasks on year 10 biology students’ understandings of cell and molecular biology concepts. Instructional Science, 35(4), 343–373. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-006-9012-3
Hill, B. D., Zak, A., Khera, E., & Wen, F. (2018). Engineering virus-like particles for antigen and drug delivery. Current Protein & Peptide Science, 19(1), 112–127. https://doi.org/10.2174/1389203718666161122113041
Holmes, E. C. (2011). What does virus evolution tell us about virus origins? Journal of Virology, 85(11), 5247–5251. https://doi.org/10.1128/JVI.02203-10
Jones, M. G., Andre, T., Superfine, R., & Taylor, R. (2003). Learning at the nanoscale: The impact of students’ use of remote microscopy on concepts of viruses, scale, and microscopy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(3), 303–322. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.10078
Keselman, A., & Zeyer, A. (2022). Tipping the fencesitters – the impact of a minimal intervention enhanced with biological facts on Swiss student teachers’ perception of HPV vaccination safety. Vaccine, 10(175). https://doi.org/10.3390/vaccines10020175
Keselman, A., Kaufman, D. R., & Patel, V. L. (2004). “You can exercise your way out of HIV” and other stories: The role of biological knowledge in adolescents’ evaluation of myths. Science Education, 88(4), 548–573. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.10135
Keselman, A., Kaufman, D. R., Kramer, S., & Patel, V. L. (2007). Fostering conceptual change and critical reasoning about HIV and AIDS. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(6), 844–863. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.20173
Lu, G., Wang, Q., & Gao, G. F. (2015). Bat-to-human: Spike features determining ‘host jump’ of coronaviruses SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and beyond. Trends in Microbiology, 23(8), 468–478. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tim.2015.06.003
Miller, B. L. (2020). Science denial and COVID conspiracy theories: Potential neurological mechanisms and possible responses. JAMA, 324(22), 2255–2256. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.21332
Nückles, M., Roelle, J., Glogger-Frey, I., Waldeyer, J., & Renkl, A. (2020). The self-regulation-view in writing-to-learn: Using journal writing to optimize cognitive load in self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review, 32(4), 1089–1126. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-020-09541-1
O’Neill, J. (2016). Tackling drug-resistant infections globally: Final report and recommendations: The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. https://apo.org.au/node/63983
Plans-Rubió, P. (2020). Are the objectives proposed by the WHO for routine measles vaccination coverage and population measles immunity sufficient to achieve measles elimination from Europe? Vaccine, 8(2), 218. https://doi.org/10.3390/vaccines8020218
Posner, G. J., Strike, K. A., Hewson, P. W., & Gertzog, W. A. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: Toward a theory of conceptual change. Science Education, 66(2), 211–227. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.3730660207
Rothenburg, S., & Brennan, G. (2020). Species-specific host-virus interactions: Implications for viral host range and virulence. Trends in Microbiology, 28(1), 46–56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tim.2019.08.007
Schaeffer, K. (2020, July 24). A look at the Americans who believe there is some truth to the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was planned. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/07/24/a-look-at-the-americans-who-believe-there-is-some-truth-to-the-conspiracy-theory-that-covid-19-was-planned/
Simon, U. K. (2021a). An instant update on viruses. The American Biology Teacher, 83(3), 147–153. https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2021.83.3.147
Simon, U. K. (2021b). Teaching virology at school – An analysis of student knowledge, text books, and other published materials, and a summary of essential virology knowledge for teachers. In A. Zeyer & R. Kyburz-Graber (Eds.), ESERA book series. Science/environment/health – towards a science pedagogy of complex living systems (pp. 263–285). Springer Nature. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-75297-2_14
Simon, U. K., Enzinger, S. M., & Fink, A. (2017). “The evil virus cell”: Students’ knowledge and beliefs about viruses. PLoS One, 12(3), e0174402. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0174402
Simonneaux, L. (2000). A study of pupils’ conceptions and reasoning in connection with ‘microbes’, as a contribution to research in biotechnology education. International Journal of Science Education, 22(6), 619–644. https://doi.org/10.1080/095006900289705
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.). https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/pdf/threats-report/2019-ar-threats-report-508.pdf
Vosniadou, S. (2007). The conceptual change approach and its re-framing. In S. Vosniadou, A. Baltas, & X. Vamvakoussi (Eds.), Re-framing the conceptual change approach in learning and instruction (pp. 1–15). Elsevier Science Inc.
Vosniadou, S. (2012). Reframing the classical approach to conceptual change: Preconceptions, misconceptions and synthetic models. In K. Frazer, G. Tobin, & C. J. McRobbie (Eds.), Springer international handbooks of science education: Vol. 24. Second international handbook of science education (2nd ed., pp. 119–130). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9041-7_10
World Health Organization. (2019). Measles. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles. Accessed 29 May 2022.
World Health Organization. (2022). Number of deaths due to HIV/AIDS. https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators/indicator-details/GHO/number-of-deaths-due-to-hiv-aids. Accessed 29 May 2022.
Editors and Affiliations
© 2023 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Simon, U.K., Bracko, M. (2023). Virus-Related Knowledge in Pandemic Times: Results from Two Cross-Sectional Studies in Austria and Implications for Secondary Education. In: Carvalho, G.S., Afonso, A.S., Anastácio, Z. (eds) Fostering Scientific Citizenship in an Uncertain World. Contributions from Science Education Research, vol 13. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-32225-9_16
Publisher Name: Springer, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-031-32224-2
Online ISBN: 978-3-031-32225-9