A case-study of a socio-scientific issues curricular and pedagogical intervention in an undergraduate microbiology course: A focus on informal reasoning

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The purpose of this investigation was to measure specific ways a student interest SSI-based curricular and pedagogical affects undergraduates' ability informally reason. The delimited components of informal reasoning measured were undergraduates' Nature of Science conceptualizations and ability to evaluate scientific information. The socio-scientific issues (SSI) theoretical framework used in this case-study has been advocated as a means for improving students' functional scientific literacy.

This investigation focused on the laboratory component of an undergraduate microbiology course in spring 2008. There were 26 participants. The instruments used in this study included: 1) Individual and Group research projects, 2) journals, 3) laboratory write-ups, 4) a laboratory quiz, 5) anonymous evaluations, and 6) a pre/post article exercise. All instruments yielded qualitative data, which were coded using the qualitative software NVivo7. Data analyses were subjected to instrumental triangulation, inter-rater reliability, and member-checking.

It was determined that undergraduates' epistemological knowledge of scientific discovery, processes, and justification matured in response to the intervention. Specifically, students realized: 1) differences between facts, theories, and opinions; 2) testable questions are not definitively proven; 3) there is no stepwise scientific process; and 4) lack of data weakens a claim. It was determined that this knowledge influenced participants' beliefs and ability to informally reason. For instance, students exhibited more critical evaluations of scientific information. It was also found that undergraduates' prior opinions had changed over the semester. Further, the student interest aspect of this framework engaged learners by offering participants several opportunities to influentially examine microbiology issues that affected their life.

The investigation provided empirically based insights into the ways undergraduates' interest and functional scientific literacy can be promoted. The investigation advanced what was known about using SSI-based frameworks to the post-secondary learner context. Outstanding questions remain for investigation. For example, is this type of student interest SSI-based intervention broadly applicable (i.e, in other science disciplines and grade levels)? And, what challenges would teachers in diverse contexts encounter when implementing a SSI-based theoretical framework?