2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009)

Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 10:45 AM


BAIR, Andrea R., Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, 2200 Colorado Ave, UCB 399, Boulder, CO 80309-0399 and FLOWERS, Rebecca, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado, Campus Box 399, 2200 Colorado Ave, Boulder, CO 80309, bair@colorado.edu

“Critical thinking” skills are considered essential for students at all educational levels. Although there is no consensus on precisely what these skills are, there is general agreement that understanding the nature of scientific knowledge and practice is important for all citizens. We describe an undergraduate “critical thinking” course in geology that provides insight into views of the nature of scientific knowledge expressed by undergraduates and instructional practices associated with more expert-like views. Students engaged in the practice of science by analyzing published papers and synthesizing and evaluating a body of work on a scientific question. A “contrasting cases” approach was utilized, in which half of the students read one paper, while the other half read a contrasting paper on the same scientific question. The structure and purpose of scientific papers were also explicitly addressed, and students were encouraged to use suggested strategies for effective reading for critical analysis. At the beginning of the course, nearly all students expressed a lack of confidence in their ability to read scientific papers, regardless of prior experience. Students exhibited incomplete views of scientific knowledge, and most did not appear to recognize the key role of communication in building scientific knowledge. After instruction, all students expressed increased competence and confidence in their ability to read and understand scientific papers. All students demonstrated improvement in their ability to critically analyze papers. Many students were able to effectively evaluate a body of work on a current scientific controversy. Most students also exhibited views that scientific knowledge is developed by people, that scientific claims vary in their certainty, and recognized the role of scientific papers in developing scientific knowledge. A focus on developing student skills and confidence in reading and analyzing primary scientific literature, along with a “contrasting cases” approach, seem particularly helpful in promoting critical analysis and evaluation and the development of more advanced views of the nature of scientific and geologic reasoning.