Progressive development of scientific literacy through assessment in inquiry-based biomedical science curricula

Kay Colthorpe, Kristen Zimbardi, Andrea Burgarcic, Aaron Smith

Abstract


A key outcome of science education is the development of graduates’ scientific literacy, defined as “an individual’s scientific knowledge, and use of that knowledge to identify questions, to acquire new knowledge, to explain scientific phenomena, and to draw evidence-based conclusions…” (OECD, 2010; pg 137). These skills are reflected throughout the Science Threshold Learning Outcomes (Jones, Yates and Kelder, 2011). To progressively develop such advanced skills within a broad major like biomedical science, it is essential to guide students along critical learning pathways. We have designed a series of inquiry-based classes to scaffold the development of these skills and vertically-integrated these across the curriculum (Zimbardi, Bugarcic, Colthorpe, Good and Lluka 2013), with this design receiving national recognition as best practice (Elliott, Boin, Irving, Johnson and Galea 2010; Kirkup and Johnson 2013). To facilitate skills development within these classes, students undertake increasingly complex assessment tasks as they progress through each course, requiring them to draw on their developing content knowledge to propose and undertake experiments, and to make conclusions based on their findings and evidence from scientific literature. Longitudinal analysis of a variety of assessment tasks from students across four semesters demonstrates the developmental trajectory of these skills. Specifically, they demonstrate increases in their ability to formulate testable hypotheses with measurable outcomes, their appreciation of cutting-edge methodologies and deeper understanding of the contestable nature of increasingly complex areas of scientific knowledge. This article reports on the design and use of these assessment tasks within the series of inquiry-based curricula, and their impact on the progression of student learning.

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