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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Department of Biology Education - Prof. Dr. Franz X. Bogner

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Research Talk of Prof. Dr. N. Valanides: Sound and Faulty Arguments Among Student - Teachers When Testing Hypotheses: Habits of Mind

Tu. 2006-01-17 (12:00)

Contact: Franz X. Bogner
Developing appropriate scientific "habits of mind" has long been a central goal of science instruction. An important component of scientific reasoning is the formulation and testing of hypotheses that are based on a puzzling observation or a set of observations. In a science education methods course during the fall semester of 2004, groups of students were instructed how to use a text-based online conferencing system for online discussion related to a lab demonstration for which there were conflicting claims about the explanation of the outcome of this experiment. Students were initially involved in a face-to-face discussion and were sensitised about certain conflicting claims regarding the demonstrated phenomenon. They were then instructed to resolve their conflicting ideas through electronic discussion and/or further experimentation and electronic discussion as a learning community. Students had two weeks time to participate in the online discussion by posting their point of view as well as replying to others' postings using the asynchronous discussion feature of WebCT. Students had to discuss these claims, and conduct further experimentation when they felt such a need in order to reach consensus about their opposing claims. The discussion and expression of ideas was anonymous in order to encourage students' participation in dialogue and negotiation of meaning. It was thus possible to identify students' alternative frameworks and to create cognitive or socio-cognitive dissonance leading to conceptual change and understanding. The instructor of the course intended to regularly participate in the online discussion of one of the groups as a student (hidden agent) by asking challenging questions promoting skepticism and evaluation of alternative perspectives. Thus, it would be possible to examine the effects of scaffolding by comparing the individual answers (correctness, depth of reasoning, quality of the individual answers, length of discussion, etc) of this group to those of the control group. Gradually, the instructor of the course felt that moderating the online discussion was extremely time consuming and he progressively faded his support. Students were supposed after participating in the online discussion to reach consensus and individually email their answer to the instructor. The data analysis provide ample evidence of students' patterns of thinking and their difficulties to be involved in evidence-based argumentation and reach valid conclusions acting as "practicing scientists."

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