Discipline-Based Research in College Science Teaching

Article excerpt

Byline: Dewey I. Dykstra, Jr.

To submit a manuscript to the Research and Teaching column, please visit http://msrs.nsta.org. Please note in the "Comments" section of the manuscript submission form that your work is intended for the Research and Teaching column.

We are, all of us, devoted to our sciences. For college science faculty this devotion to our respective disciplines extends in part to teaching. We share a common characteristic: we have extensive training and experience in the methods of science and in our own disciplines, particularly. In recent years these methods have been turned, by scientists intensely interested in teaching their own area of science, on the challenge of teaching. This effort has been described as discipline-based research in learning and teaching science.

This discipline-based research is conducted by coordinated groups, as well as by individuals. An example of a coordinated, ongoing group effort in this field is the Physics Education Group in the Physics Department at the University of Washington in Seattle. Results of the efforts of such groups and of individuals in this effort can be found in the Research and Teaching Column of this journal and elsewhere.

The field of discipline-based research in science learning and teaching is large enough that there are multiple research threads. One of the major threads focuses on evidence of students' conceptions-their understandings-of the phenomena studied in the various sciences (see Note). Students apparently come to us having already implicitly formulated conceptions or explanations of how the phenomena work. They are not empty vessels waiting to be filled.

Because students already have these conceptions, they interpret whatever they experience in terms of their existing conceptions. Because these conceptions are often fundamentally disproportionate with the conceptual basis of existing scientific explanations, students' interpretations of what they experience in a course are found not to be those intended by instructors. It is documented that many of these conceptions are remarkably resistant to standard instruction. If our intent is that students develop new conceptions or understandings of the phenomena in our courses, then these discipline-based research findings raise fundamental questions about our teaching. At the same time, the findings give direction for more effective teaching.

While not all college science instructors are in a position to, wish to or even need to participate in discipline-based research in teaching, as college science instructors we are all in a position to make use of the results of such research to the benefit of our own efforts in teaching. It is the goal of this journal's Research and Teaching column to assist in the wider dissemination of the findings of discipline-based research in learning and teaching science to all college science instructors.

The Journal of College Science Teaching is not primarily a research journal. We do not intend to compete with journals whose central focus is research in science education, such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching or the International Journal of Science Education, for example. …