The development of science epistemology in senior science courses: A quantitative study
Epistemological development is a pivotal aspect of liberal education because the ability to distinguish between knowledge and pseudo-knowledge and the ability to use the particular methods of reasoning associated with various disciplinary fields equips people to make judgements in complex issues. The present study examines the extent to which studying each of the different science disciplines in secondary years 12 and 13 supports the development of science epistemology. A further aim was to determine the relationship between epistemological development in science and the completion of inquiry-type coursework. Data were collected from 735 year 12 and 13 students from 11 schools, mainly from the Wellington region. A survey, designed for this study, comprised statements about the nature of science and scientific argumentation conceptions, two pivotal aspects of science epistemology. Using a quasi-experimental design, this quantitative study explores the extent of the development of science epistemology over a year of studying science, by comparing students’ scores in Term 1 with scores in Term 3 on the instrument. The findings showed a more advanced epistemic view among science students; however, a positive effect of science studies on epistemic development was not evident. It was concluded that a greater emphasis on authentic inquiry is essential for epistemic development and, while understanding of the philosophical assumptions underpinning scientific knowledge is important, this should arise from authentic science inquiries – or the processes of science – rather than being taught in isolation from the practice of the discipline of science. This leads to a question the extent to which an emphasis should be placed on the ontological aspects of the philosophy and the sociology of science, potentially at the expense of developing sound understanding of science epistemology.