University of Tasmania
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Challenging students to think critically: a science unit focussing on generic skills

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conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-26, 10:10 authored by Susan JonesSusan Jones, Barmuta, LA
Biggs (1999) stressed that education should be about "conceptual change, not just the acquisition of knowledge". Paradoxically, however, undergraduate science units often emphasize acquiring the knowledge content of the curriculum rather than the ability to think critically. There is evidence that science students in general appear to be less and less able to read critically, or to write with clarity and purpose (Birkerts 1994); yet these are key generic skills for all science professionals. We have developed a new level 2/3 unit, Evolution, Ecology and Society, that exposes students to contemporary theories and concepts in ecology and evolutionary biology, and examines how these ideas are used to inform both scientific progress and public debate. The unit focuses on developing the students’ information literacy, their ability to assess scientific theory critically and analytically, and their communication skills. The teaching pattern is centred upon four learning modules dealing with topical issues in science. We visualise the basic module as a “learning spiral”, beginning with student choice of topic, library research, and reporting to the group on their readings, working towards critical and comparative assessment of material through discussion, oral presentations and written assignments. Student response has been overwhelmingly positive. This paper elaborates on the learning strategies employed in this unit, which may easily be extrapolated to other discipline areas.


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Christchurch, New Zealand

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Copyright Copyright 2003 Jones and Barmuta

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