An investigation into improving scientific literacy\ud in Israeli university students within an academic English reading programme
The commitment to improving scientific literacy is voiced by governments throughout the world. One of the main objectives is the development of an informed and active citizenry able to participate in decision-making processes concerning socio-scientific issues (SSIs).\ud \ud There is a growing literature which suggests that engaging with the complexity of SSIs demands a high level of critical-thinking skills. These skills include: open-mindedness, independence, and scepticism. This three-year long study attempted to develop an intervention which will, in particular, provide subjects with an ability to be more open-minded, evaluate counter opinions, and respect those holding such opinions.\ud The importance of developing an ability to value the ‘other’ emerged from years of teaching academic English within an Israeli university, where initiating fruitful classroom discussion was problematic. The lack of dialogue resulted from individuals voicing strongly held opinions and seeming to be unable to acknowledge, and evaluate opposing views.\ud \ud This project was designed as an action research study. Both quantitative and qualitative data was collected, and analysed within an interpretive framework. As both the researcher and researched, many of my teaching methods were modified during the course of this study, including the introduction of pair-work in class.\ud \ud The study was conducted in three cycles over three consecutive years, primarily with two classes (one humanities and one science) in the pre-academic, mechina, program of an Israeli university. The mechina is a year-long programme and the students I taught had a single semester of English. This meant that three different cohorts of students were studied, (there were always 25-30 students in each class, so about 50 students were studied each year). The classes I taught were proficient in English, and were required to do a research project as part of the course. This project became my intervention.\ud I developed a project based on devil’s advocate which required them to choose an SSI that interested them, write a statement of their opinion, and then, much to their astonishment, find evidence to support the counter opinion. I gave a lesson on how to evaluate sources available on the internet. Although the project was set up as a standard research exercise, which is what they expected, the majority of students identified that this project made them more aware of the value of counter opinions – more ‘open-minded’.\ud \ud The primary method for collecting feedback on the project, and on other aspects of my course, utilized a projective technique – students wrote their views anonymously on a piece of paper; these are then analysed by coding the responses.\ud \ud This study also employed questionnaires, which were given to all students. These showed that the majority had little or no science education in high school, and yet registered high levels of interest in science and technology on a three-level Likert item. These findings add support to research that shows the more science studied in high school the lower the interest in the subject. Furthermore, by including a standard VOSTS (Views On Science-Technology-Society) I was able to show that my students believed the general public should participate in governmental decisions relating to SSIs. Responses to open-ended questions showed that most students, including those in the humanities, believed everyone should take science courses at university, and should have science classes in school (though not the current curriculum).\ud \ud In conclusion, this research indicated that interest in science was not related to studying the current school science curriculum. And feedback from the intervention demonstrated that students could be aware of a change in their cognitive skills, and independently acknowledge the importance of being open-minded – an important step towards promoting an active, informed, scientifically literate society.
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