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Teaching Science as a Process, Not a Set of Facts

A Case‑Study of a First‑Year Science Seminar

Abstract

The widespread misperception of science as a deliverer of irrefutable facts, rather than a deliberative process, is undermining public trust in science. Science education therefore needs to better support students’ understanding of the central role that disputes play in the scientific process. Successfully incorporating scientific disputes into science education is, however, challenging. The aim of this paper is to identify course components and design features that develop undergraduate students’ abilities to write a logically coherent argument that is supported by evidence. First, we assessed student essays from a course that had gone through a major revision aimed at strengthening students’ reasoning skills. When comparing pre- and post-revision essays, we found substantial, and significant, improvements across the assessment criteria. We then elicited oral and written feedback from instructors who taught the course pre- and post-revision. We identified several changes that instructors felt most impacted students’ reasoning skills, most importantly: streamlining of learning outcomes and course content emphasizing argumentation skills; stronger scaffolding and better utilized peer review; and more detailed rubrics that specifically reference learning outcomes and course content. The study illustrates the power of iterative course revisions that incorporate findings from published research and instructors’ reflections on teaching practices as a way to strengthen student learning.

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Data Availability

Raw data were generated at the University of British Columbia. Derived data supporting the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author Gunilla Öberg on request.

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Funding

This study was funded by UBC's Development Fund with matching funding from the departments of Botany, Computer Science, Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (EOAS), Microbiology and Immunology, Statistics, and Zoology at the university of British Columbia.

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Correspondence to Gunilla Öberg.

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Appendices

Appendix 1. 2014 Term Papers Writing Assessment Rubric

Writing assessment rubric.

For: Term Project Marking

figurea
figureb

Appendix 2. 2017 term paper rubric

Term paper final rubric.

Student:

  Fail (0–49%) Poor (50–54%) Acceptable (55–67%) Good (68–79%) Excellent (80–100%)
I: Argument
Mark: /50
Ia: Claim
Mark: /10
The paper lacks a claim The claim is unclear and inconsistent. It may not be a claim but, rather, a statement of fact The paper has a claim, but it may be too broad. It may be inconsistent (e.g. the paper argues a different claim than that which is in the introduction) The claim is clear and debatable, but would be improved by being more specific. It is consistent throughout the paper The claim is clear, specific, and debatable. It is consistent throughout the paper
  Ib: Reasons
The reasons
• Support the claim
• Are warranted, when appropriate
Mark: /15
The paper lacks reasons There are reasons provided, but they may be difficult to identify. They do not support the claim At least one reason supports the claim. Some need to be warranted. Two or more reasons may be conceptually indistinct. Reasons given may be contradictory Reasons provided generally support the claim, and are conceptually distinct. They may be vague. There is a clear attempt to use warrants when necessary Each reason is precise and clearly supports the claim. Reasons are conceptually distinct. Warrants are thoughtful and appropriate
  Ic: Evidence
Is the evidence:
• Relevant
• Precise
• Accurate
• Representative
Mark: /15
The paper provides little evidence. The evidence does not support the reasons or claim The evidence provided is difficult to identify and poorly supports the claim and reasons. It may be seldom relevant, insufficiently detailed, inaccurate, or difficult to identify The evidence is generally relevant, but it may be insufficiently detailed, inaccurate, or not representative. It may be unclear how the evidence supports the claim and reasons The evidence is well-selected, but includes little data from scientific papers reporting original research. It is generally relevant, precise, accurate, and representative. Evidence generally supports the claims and reasons, but may be uneven (strong for one reason and less strong for another) The evidence is well-selected. It includes data from scientific papers reporting original research. It is consistently relevant, precise, accurate, and representative. It convincingly supports the claim and reasons
  Id: Counterargument and rebuttal
Mark: /10
There is no counterargument presented The counterargument and rebuttal are weak and difficult to identify. It may not refute the argument being made. It is not based in scientific evidence The counterargument and rebuttal presented are based in scientific evidence, but address a minor aspect of the argument The counterargument and rebuttal presented address a substantive aspect of the argument, but could be strengthened. The counterargument and rebuttal are supported by scientific evidence, but not from primary data The counterargument and rebuttal are strong, detailed, and address a substantive aspect of the argument. Both the counterargument and rebuttal are supported by strong scientific evidence
II: Logical progression
Mark: /10
There is no apparent logic to the order in which ideas are presented. The argument suffers from one or more logical fallacies The argument suffers from one or more logical fallacies The argument has some logical inconsistencies—reasons may not be logically connected, or there may be logical fallacies evident The argument is logically consistent. The logical order of the ideas can be improved The argument is logically consistent and ideas are presented in a logical order that moves the argument forward
III: Written expression
Is word choice correct and precise?
Is the writing grammatically correct, concise and easy to read?
Mark: /15
The paper has enough issues with grammar, sentence, paragraph and essay structure that the meaning in some places is lost The paper is difficult to read. Paragraphs may combine several ideas in confusing ways. Sentences have severe grammatical or word choice errors that inhibit understanding
The claim and reasons are not stated in the introduction
Some paragraphs lack topic sentences, and some may address more than one reason in the argument. Sentences have major grammatical or word choice issues. They need editing for clarity and concision to enhance readability. Ideas are generally presented in the same order as stated in the introduction Each paragraph has a topic sentence and addresses one reason in the argument. Sentences are generally clear. They may be wordy, or have minor grammatical or word choice issues. Ideas are presented in the same order as stated in the introduction The paper is concise and easy to read. Each paragraph has a topic sentence, and addresses one reason in the argument. Terminology is used correctly
Sentences are clear and grammatically correct. Ideas are presented in the same order as stated in the introduction
IV: References and citations
Are references complete, correct, and done consistently in APA style?
Mark: /5
The paper lacks citations and/or a list of references Many in-text citations are missing. Major errors in citation style Some in-text citations are missing. Some major errors in citation style. The paper may not use APA style or there may be more than one style used In-text citations are complete. A few minor errors in APA citation style Yes
V: Response to feedback
How well has the feedback been considered and incorporated into the final version?
Mark: /5
There is no response to feedback worksheet Only minor, mechanical changes, despite receiving substantive feedback Some feedback is incorporated, but some relevant feedback is not. Or, each piece of feedback uncritically incorporated, even when it wasn’t valid A good, but not outstanding, job considering and incorporating the feedback The paper and worksheet both indicate that the feedback was carefully considered and thoughtfully incorporated
VI: Overall quality
Mark: /15
A weak paper that does not meet the learning objectives associated with the assignment A weak paper that demonstrates a poor conceptual understanding of the course materials, and poor reasoning and attention to detail. It is descriptive A fair quality paper that demonstrates a grasp, but not a solid conceptual understanding, of the course materials. Reasoning and attention to detail can be improved. The paper may be descriptive rather than argumentative A strong, well-argued paper that demonstrates good conceptual understanding of course materials, solid reasoning and good attention to detail. There may be some unevenness – some aspects may be very strong, but others, less so A well-written, convincingly-argued and original paper that demonstrates thorough conceptual understanding of course materials, complex reasoning and careful attention to detail

Comments:

Appendix 3. 2014 Term Paper Instructions

Term Project

You will develop an argumentative essay, with feedback throughout the term, on the following:

Identify a Current Controversy in Science that Interests you. State your Opinion and Present the Evidence that Justifies your Position

The term project is expected to present an evidence-based argument that is motivated by your own interests. You will receive feedback (formative assessment) throughout term to encourage reflection on the place of science in your life and future, incorporating the course themes of the nature of science and science in society.

Maximum length: Five pages double-spaced (1200–1300 words), not including references, but including an abstract limited to 150 words. You cannot do a reasonable job of this project in less than 1000 words.

Your paper must include a descriptive title. Write in the first person. Include the following headings and subheadings: Abstract, Introduction, Additional sub-headings of your choice (descriptive and related to your topic), Conclusion, and References cited.

Tips and details for working through each part of this assignment are on the term project module of connect-all sections.

Term project Revised outline, version 1, and final term project = 25%

Class 8 M 24 Sept Start to identify topic ideas
Class 11 M 1 Oct Paragraph on topic idea for approval due, submit in class
Class 13 F 8 Oct Outline due, submit in class (not for marks)
Class 16 M 20 Oct Revised outline (including references) due, submit in class (3%)
Class 23 F 7 Nov Version 1 due, along with turn-it-in report; submit to connect (7%)
Class 25 W 12 Nov Bring copy of version 1 to class for peer feedback
Not a class W 3 Dec Final term project due, submit to connect (15%)

Please be aware of the UBC plagiarism policy: http://help.library.ubc.ca/planning-your-research/academic-integrity-plagiarism/ and adhere strictly to it for all writing in this course. We encourage you to make an annotation of each research paper that you read throughout the term, both assigned readings for class (for practice) and as you do your research.

You will be asked to submit version1 of your term project to Turnitin in order to verify originality and to help you develop scholarly writing skills.

Term project tips

Identify a current controversy in science that interests you. State your opinion, and present the evidence that justifies your position.

The term project is expected to present an evidence-based argument that is motivated by your own interests. The structure of the term project should reflect how you developed your position. Begin with broad contextual statements that motivate the topic. In the main body, discuss different viewpoints (compare, contrast), and explain and provide support for why you are taking your position. In the conclusion, briefly summarize the previous discussion and state your position clearly again.

Fig. 6
figure6

Adapted from Wingate, U. (2012). “Argument!” helping students understand what essay writing is about. Journal for English for Academic Purposes Volume 11: 145–154

Essay writing framework.

See Fig. 6

Appendix 4. 2017 term paper instructions

Introduction

For your term paper, you will write an argumentative essay in response to this prompt:

Choose an unresolved scientific research question that interests you. State your claim and present the reasons and evidence that justify your position.

You will conduct research for your term paper using peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Guidelines

Your term paper should be 1000–1250 words long, excluding references.

Your paper must include a descriptive title, your name and student number, and the paper’s word count at the top of the page. It must also include citations and a list of references.

You should cite at least 5 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Please consult your instructor or TA if you are unsure if a source is appropriate to use.

You are expected to use warrants, and to include counterarguments and rebuttals.

Include headings and sub-headings to enhance clarity. For instance, you should include headings for your introduction, conclusion, and references. Throughout the body of the paper, you can also include headings that describe the themes, reasons, and/or arguments presented in your paper.

Please use the Term Paper outline template for guidance on how to structure your paper. Note that the introductory paragraph will describe the unresolved research question, in addition to stating the claim and reasons (as was done for Essay 1). Like in Essay 1, you should include one body paragraph for each reason that you present to support your claim, as well as a paragraph for counterarguments and rebuttals.

You must submit a Turnitin similarity report with both version 1 and the final version of your term paper.

Assessment

Feedback

You will receive peer and instructor feedback on version 1 of your term paper. You are expected to incorporate this feedback into the final version of your term paper. When you submit the final version of your term paper, you must include a response to feedback worksheet . Please include this as the last page of your paper, rather than as a separate file.

If you do not fully understand the feedback that you have received, be sure to speak with the person providing feedback (whether peer or instructor), so that he or she can clarify it for you.

Grading

Your term paper outline is worth 2.5% of your final SCIE 113 grade.

Version 1 of your term paper is worth 15% of your final SCIE 113 grade.

The final version of your term paper is worth 20% of your final SCIE 113 grade.

Your instructor will use the term paper version 1 rubric when grading version 1 of your term paper, and the term paper final version rubric when grading the final version.

Plagiarism and academic honesty

All writing must be your original work. Students are expected to be familiar with the university X policy on academic integrity and plagiarism [link disabled for review purposes], and to adhere strictly to it for all work in this course. Academic misconduct of any kind will not be tolerated; the consequences for academic misconduct will, at minimum, include a grade of zero for the assignment. Students who engage in academic misconduct may also face possible expulsion from the course and possible suspension from the university.

We expect you to use proper citations and references in your term paper. Citing your sources as you develop your outline and your draft, and keeping careful notes about each paper that you cite, will help to prevent unintentional plagiarism.

You will submit both version 1 and the final version of your paper Turnitin (Links to an external site) Links to an external site. to verify that each version is your original writing. You must submit a Turnitin similarity report with both version 1 and the final version of your term paper.

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Öberg, G., Campbell, A., Fox, J. et al. Teaching Science as a Process, Not a Set of Facts. Sci & Educ (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-021-00253-8

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