Extending the Utility of the Views of Nature of Science Assessment through Epistemic Network Analysis

  • Erin E. Peters-BurtonEmail author
  • Jennifer C. Parrish
  • Bridget K. Mulvey


An understanding of how science is enacted and how scientific knowledge is generated, or the nature of science (NOS), is a major goal of science education. NOS views have almost exclusively been assessed using the Views of Nature of Science (VNOS) suite of instruments, which consists of open-ended questions. The purpose of this study was to investigate the utility of performing an Epistemic Network Analysis (ENA) from VNOS-B responses, using the group as the unit of analysis. Traditional scoring of the VNOS responses demonstrated that overall, participants shifted from emerging to more sophisticated views across all elements. An ENA provided a quick visualization of how participants connected NOS ideas. With regard to accuracy of participants’ NOS understandings as a group, findings from traditional VNOS analysis and ENA converged on two main points, improvement of overall quality of knowledge and the identification of missing elements of NOS from responses. Some changes in participants’ NOS understanding were identifiable in results from only the ENA. For example, prior to instruction, ENA showed three naive ideas about empiricism. After instruction, no naive statements remained in the responses about the empirical nature of science. ENA extends the traditional VNOS analysis by enabling the pinpointing of particular ideas that are meaningful to the group, indicating clusters of ideas that are related, and illustrating the way informed, transitional and naïve ideas intermingle.


nature of science epistemic network analysis Views of Nature of Science assessment assessment 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Abd-El-Khalick, F. (2014). The evolving landscape related to assessment of nature of science. In N. G. Lederman & S. K. Abell (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (Vol. II, pp. 621–650). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Abd-El-Khalick, F., & Akerson, V. (2009). The influence of metacognitive training on preservice elementary teachers’ conceptions of nature of science. International Journal of Science Education, 31, 2161–2184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Abd-El-Khalick, F., Bell, R. L., & Lederman, N. G. (1998). The nature of science and instructional practice: Making the unnatural natural. Science Education, 82, 417–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aikenhead, G. S., & Ryan, A. G. (1992). The development of a new instrument: “Views on Science-Technology-Society (VOSTS)”. Science Education, 76, 477–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Akerson, V. L., Abd-El-Khalick, F., & Lederman, N. G. (2000). Influence of a reflective explicit activity-based approach on elementary teachers’ conceptions of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37, 295–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for scientific literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Anderson, J. R. (1981). Cognitive skills and their acquisition. Hillsdale: Earlbaum.Google Scholar
  8. Bartos, S. A., & Lederman, N. G. (2014). Teachers’ knowledge structures for nature of science and scientific inquiry: Conceptions and classroom practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51, 1150–1184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bell, R. L., Mulvey, B. K., & Maeng, J. L. (2016). Outcomes of nature of science instruction along a context continuum: Preservice secondary science teachers’ conceptions and instructional intentions. International Journal of Science Education, 38, 493–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clough, M. P. (2007). Teaching the nature of science to secondary and post-secondary students:Questions rather than tenets. The Pantaneto Forum, 25 Retrieved from Accessed 18 Oct 2019.
  11. Cooley, W. W., & Klopfer, L. E. (1961). TOUS: Test on understanding science (Form W). Princeton: Educational Testing Service.Google Scholar
  12. Demirdogen, B., & Uzuntiryaki-Kondakci, E. (2016). Closing the gap between beliefs and practice: Change of preservice chemistry teachers’ orientations during a PCK-based NOS course. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 17, 818–841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Duschl, R., & Grandy, R. (Eds.). (2008). Teaching scientific inquiry: Recommendations for research and implementation. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  14. Erduran, S., & Dagher, Z. (2014). Reconceptualizing the nature of science for science education: Scientific knowledge, practices and other family categories. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  15. Erduran, S. & Dagher, Z. R. (2016). Reconceptualising the nature of science: Why does it matter? Science & Education, 25(1), 147–164.Google Scholar
  16. Ford, M., & Forman, E. (2006). Redefining disciplinary learning in classroom contexts. Review of Research in Education, 30, 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hammer, D., Elby, A., Scherr, R. E., & Redish, E. F. (2005). Resources, framing, and transfer. In J. Mestre (Ed.), Transfer of learning from a modern multidisciplinary perspective (pp. 89–120). Greenwich: Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
  18. Hanneman, R. A., & Riddle, M. (2005). Introduction to social network methods. Riverside: University of California, Riverside (published in digital form at Accessed 25 Aug 2019.
  19. Hanuscin, D. L., Akerson, V. L., & Phillipson-Mower, T. (2006). Integrating nature of science instruction into a physical science content course for preservice elementary teachers: NOS views of teaching assistants. Science Teacher Education, 90, 912–935.Google Scholar
  20. Herman, B. C., & Clough, M. P. (2016). Teachers’ longitudinal NOS understanding after having completed a science teacher education program. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 14(1), 207–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kampourakis, K. (2016). The “general aspects” conceptualization as a pragmatic and effective means to introducing students to nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 53, 667–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kaufman, J. (2006). Card sorting: An inexpensive and practical usability technique. Intercom, 11, 17–19.Google Scholar
  23. Khishfe, R., & Abd-El-Khalick, F. (2002). Influence of explicit and reflective versus implicit inquiry-oriented instruction on sixth graders’ views of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39, 551–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Knorr-Cetina, K. (1999). Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kruskal, J. B. (1964). Multidimensional scaling by optimizing goodness of fit to a nonmetric hypothesis. Psychometrika, 29(1), 1–27.Google Scholar
  26. Larkin, J. H., McDermott, J., Simon, D. P., & Simon, H. A. (1980). Expert and novice performance in solving physics problems. Science, 208, 1335–1342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lederman, N. G. (1992). Students’ and teachers’ conceptions about the nature of science: A review of the research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29, 331–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lederman, N. G. (2007). Nature of science: Past, present, and future. In S. K. Abell & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Science Education (pp. 831–880). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Lederman, N. G., & O’Malley, M. (1990). Students’ perceptions of tentativeness in science: Development, use, and sources of change. Science Education, 74, 225–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lederman, N. G., Wade, P. D., & Bell, R. L. (1998). Assessing understanding of the nature of science: A historical perspective. In W. McComas (Ed.), The nature of science in science education: Rationales and strategies (pp. 331–350). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.Google Scholar
  31. Lederman, N. G., Abd-El-Khalick, F., Bell, R. L., & Schwartz, R. S. (2002). Views of Nature of Science questionnaire: Toward valid and meaningful assessment of learners’ conceptions of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39, 497–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McComas, W. F. (2008). Seeking historical examples to illustrate key aspects of the nature of science. Science & Education, 17, 249–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McComas, W. (2019). Principal elements of nature of science: Informing science teaching while dispelling the myths. In W. F. McComas (Ed.), The nature of science in science instruction-rationales & strategies. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  34. McComas, W. F., Lee, C. K., & Sweeney, S. J. (2009). A critical review of current U.S. state science standards with respect to the inclusion of elements of the nature of science. Paper presented at the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, Garden Grove, CA.Google Scholar
  35. Mesci, G., & Schwartz, R. (2017). Changing preservice science teachers’ views of nature of science: Why some conceptions may be more easily altered than others. Research in Science Education, 47, 329–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mulvey, B. K., & Bell, R. L. (2017). Making learning last: Teachers’ long-term retention of improved nature of science conceptions and instructional rationales. International Journal of Science Education, 39, 62–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  38. NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  39. O’Neill, D., & Polman, J. (2004). Why educate “little scientists”? Examining the potential of practice-based scientific literacy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41, 234–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Osborne, J., Collins, S., Ratcliffe, M., Millar, R., & Duschl, R. (2003a). What “ideas-about-science” should be taught in school science? A Delphi study of the expert community. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40, 692–720.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Osborne, J., Simon, S., Collins, S. (2003b). Attitudes towards science: A review of the literature and its implications. International Journal of Science Education, 25(9), 1049–1079.Google Scholar
  42. Ozgelen, S., Hanuscin, D. L., & Yilmaz-Tuzun, O. (2013). Preservice elementary science teachers’ connections among aspects of NOS: Toward a consistent, overarching framework. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 24, 907–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Peters-Burton, E. E. (2015). Outcomes of a self-regulatory curriculum model: Network analysis of middle school students’ views of nature of science. Science & Education, 24, 855–885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Peters-Burton, E. E., & Baynard, E. (2013). Network analysis of domains of knowledge about the scientific enterprise: A comparison of scientists, middle school science teachers and 8th grade science students. International Journal of Science Education, 35, 2801–2837.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Peters-Burton, E. E., Bergeron, L. & Sondergeld, T. (2017). Re-analysis of epistemic network with NOS family resemblance approach. Paper presented at the European Science Education Research Association, Dublin, Ireland.Google Scholar
  46. Redish, E. (2004). A theoretical framework for physics education research: Modeling student thinking. In E. Redish & M. Vicentini (Eds.), Proceedings of the Enrico Fermi summer school, course CLVI. Bologna: Italian Physical Society.Google Scholar
  47. Ryan, A. G., & Aikenhead, G. S. (1992). Students’ preconceptions about the epistemology of science. Science Education, 76, 559–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Smith, M. U., Lederman, N. G., Bell, R. L., McComas, W. F., & Clough, M. P. (1997). How great is the disagreement about the nature of science: A response to Alters. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34, 1101–1103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc..Google Scholar
  50. Teddlie, A., & Tashakkori, C. (2009). Foundations of mixed methods research: Integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches in the social and behavioral sciences. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc..Google Scholar
  51. Weller, S. C., & Romney, A. K. (1988). Qualitative research methods: Systematic data collection. Newbury Park: SAGE Publications, Inc..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Yacoubian, H. A. (2018). Scientific literacy for democratic decision-making. International Journal of Science Education, 40(3), 308–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Donna R. and David E. Sterling Endowed Professor in Science Education, College of Education and Human DevelopmentGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  2. 2.Department of Science EducationUniversity of Northern ColoradoGreeleyUSA
  3. 3.School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum DevelopmentKent State UniversityKentUSA

Personalised recommendations