Achieving scientific sustainability - A study into the importance of improving first year undergraduate scientific literacy in the biological sciences.

Sarah Illingworth, Karen Burke Da Silva, Amy Butler

Abstract


Australian science education practices, in the way science is both seen and taught, have mostly remained unchanged, particularly with regard to developing scientific literacy in higher education at the first year undergraduate level. A ten item multiple choice survey was employed to examine understanding of socio-biological issues, and comparisons were made between volunteers from three different cohorts;

a. a large core biology class which utilises ‘traditional’ teaching pedagogies,
b. a small elective biology class aimed specifically at increasing the scientific literacy of non science students, and
c. first year education classes with no science content.

The initial literacy expectations were: most literate - core biology > elective biology > education – least literate. This prediction was based on the level of engagement resulting from the teaching methods employed, in addition to the expected degree of exposure to accurate/quality scientific information students would have received. The pattern that emerged was as predicted indicating that when the subject material is made both interesting and relevant, scientific literacy of non-science students can be increased to approximately the same level as core biology students, regardless of the students’ prior educational background.

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