Skill Transmittance in Science Education

Studying the Skills of Scientific Expertise
  • Brandon Boesch


It is widely argued that the skills of scientific expertise are tacit, meaning that they are difficult to study. In this essay, I draw on work from the philosophy of action about the nature of skills to show that there is another access point for the study of skills—namely, skill transmission in science education. I will begin by outlining Small’s Aristotelian account of skills, including a brief exposition of its advantages over alternative accounts of skills. He argues that skills exist in a sort of life cycle between learning, practicing, and transmitting, which provides reasons to think that we should pay close attention to the way skills are transmitted in teaching and learning. To demonstrate how a study of skill transmittance can be revealing about the nature of skills in expertise, I explore an example—what I identify as the skill of tension-balancing in model-building. After describing the skill, I briefly examine two case studies from the science education literature that reveal insights about the skill of tension-balancing as it functions in the practice of model-building.



I am grateful to Tarja Knuuttila, Jennifer Frey, Michael Dickson, and four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments during the writing of this article. Valuable feedback was also provided by attendees of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice Meeting in 2016, as well as by attendees of a philosophy of science seminar at the University of Helsinki.

Funding Information

I am grateful for financial support from the University of South Carolina Office of the Vice President for Research and the Department of Philosophy, which funded research visits to the Academy of Finland Center of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki and the Complutense University of Madrid, during which the bulk of this article was written. I am also grateful to the Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Foundation, for fellowship funding, under which I finished this article.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HumanitiesMorningside CollegeSioux CityUSA

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