This study investigates three aspects—university major, year, and institution type—in relation to student scientific reasoning. Students from three majors (science, engineering, and education), four year levels (years 1 through 4), and two tiers of Chinese universities (tiers 1 and 2) participated in the study. A large-scale written assessment was conducted using the Lawson’s Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning (LCTSR). A series of analysis of variance showed that, although science and engineering majors exhibited higher reasoning skills than education majors and first-tier university attendees higher than second-tier university attendees, student reasoning skills measured by the LCTSR remained nearly constant across the four year levels of higher education, a recurring pattern for all majors and university tiers. Results suggest that current higher education in China has little influence on student scientific reasoning, regardless of what students learn, how long they receive higher education, and what type of institutions they attend. Implications of the study call our attention to the status quo and urge us to rethink meaningful ways that can help students increase key proficiencies needed in scientific practices, such as successful reasoning skills.
The figure above shows what might be the shocking part to you. When these researchers looked across the four years of university education, NO group of students improved their scientific reasoning abilities. Not the education majors, engineering majors, or the science majors. Technically, there is zero statistical improvement, but the trend of the line for the science and engineering majors is scary, since it points down. As a good scientist, I won’t claim that that actually means something, but if you want to make a case that university education in science is actually making students worse at thinking like a scientist, then I won’t argue, because I have yet to see any data suggesting you’re wrong.
This result was not shocking to me. Our research group has shown in our previous work that even well-research “reformed” methods of science instruction do very little if anything to improve scientific reasoning abilities. Did I mention we’re heavily cited in this paper ;). We have some similar data from Astronomy courses where measured student gains in scientific reasoning are negative (though actually statistically zero).None of this says that we, as science educators, are failing at teaching science. Content knowledge measurably increases, even if not as much as we would like. But when it comes to teaching science thinking and practice, we definitely have a lot of improvement to make.
Our current National Science Foundation grant (DUE 1244801) is focused on exactly that problem. We’re working on explicit reasoning instructional methodologies that measurably improve scientific reasoning ability. I’m touring Europe right now talking about that. Personally, I’m also excited about the Next Generation Science Standards, exactly because reasoning and process skills are now an important part of what we expect from a science education. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to teach and assess these types of skills.
What do you think? Is science teaching failing at teaching scienc