By Nolan N. Bett, Costanza Piccolo, Nathan D. Roberson, A. James Charbonneau and Christopher J. Addison
Teaching undergraduate students what science is and how it operates is not a simple task. At the post-secondary level, science courses typically focus on a single scientific discipline, leaving little space for instructors and their students to think about science from a broader perspective. What does it mean to be a scientist? What constitutes a scientific approach? How does one “think like a scientist”?
Working within an interdisciplinary first-year science program, we encouraged our students to consider these types of questions through the creation of a weekly reflection activity. Our program is unique in several ways. First, students take courses on different scientific disciplines as a single cohort, and instructors participate in one another’s classes. Additionally, students learn about and discuss broader topics relating to the nature of science, hear guest lectures from visiting scientists, and carry out independent research projects. Still, it can be difficult to assess how the students’ viewpoints on science are being shaped by their experiences. Our weekly activities encouraged students to reflect on the nature of science, and to explain how their views were influenced by their experiences in the program.
Through our assessment of the students’ reflections, we learned several things. First, there were several common themes relating to the nature of science that were frequently discussed in the reflections, illustrating certain aspects of science that appeared to resonate most with the students. Second, many of the students demonstrated views that departed from commonly held misconceptions reported by past studies. The students linked these views to their own experiences, allowing us to pinpoint specific learning experiences that appeared to inform their beliefs. Third, the act of frequent and open-ended self-reflection appeared to contribute to the development of the students’ viewpoints, suggesting the potential for metacognitive activities to encourage students to think deeply about complex and nuanced topics that extend beyond the learning objectives of typical introductory-level science courses.
Find the TLI article here.