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Don't Blame the "Surveys"

Author: Joel Mintzes
Posted: October 4, 2013 at 3:32PM

Salter and Atkins found that their course on "Student-Generated Scientific Inquiry" failed to have any measurable effect on students' understanding of the nature of science (NOS) as revealed in the widely used instruments developed by Lederman et al [VNOS].  From this they go on to conclude that their course is just fine; it's just that it teaches "procedural" knowledge (ie. how to swing a golf club) rather than declarative knowledge (ie. the rules of the game).

Unfortunately, their conclusions sound more like a rationalization than an honest assessment of their intervention.  It is OK to have negative findings; they are often more instructive than supportive findings.  Sometimes negative findings offer us direction for further work:  Perhaps (1) their course needs modification or (2) there is a need to develop assessment tools that address procedural or enactive dimensions of NOS.  

But before they move on to (1) or (2), they need to acknowledge that their original hypothesis failed to stand an empirical test and to speculate on the reasons. Perhaps an inappropriate assessment tool was chosen.  Possibly the instructors failed to focus student attention on the declarative aspects of NOS.  In either case, it seems a bit irresponsible to blame the surveys as the title of their paper suggests, rather than to acknowledge the limitations of their study.

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