Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Deliberative Pedagogy in a Nonmajors Biology Course: Active Learning That Promotes Student Engagement with Science Policy and Research

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Deliberative Pedagogy in a Nonmajors Biology Course: Active Learning That Promotes Student Engagement with Science Policy and Research

Article excerpt

The imperative to move from "sage on the stage" (King, 1993) pedagogies in introductory science courses to more active and engaged learning strategies that support student success is increasingly recognized (Freeman et al., 2014; Gasiewski, Eagan, Garcia, Hurtado, & Chang, 2012; Handelsman et al., 2004; Mazur, 1996; Powell, 2003). Not only does "Student Talk" (Tanner, 2009) through active learning promote increased student performance, but it also more accurately mirrors the scientific process, enabling students to understand how theories and facts arise and are integrated into scientific knowledge; how "over time, ideas that survive critical examination attain consensual acceptance within the community, and by discourse and argument, science maintains its objectivity" (Osborne, 2010, p. 464). This is particularly true for active learning that involves argumentation and critical analysis in collaborative pedagogical structures, which have been shown to increase student conceptual understanding in STEM (Osborne, 2010).

The need for pedagogies that support active and collaborative learning is particularly acute when the classroom audience is nonmajors, often enrolled solely to fulfill the nearly ubiquitous "science requirement" (Miller, 2010) in place at most higher education institutions in the United States. For such students, these classes are likely one of the last structured interactions they will have with science, although civic life and career options increasingly demand that they make choices, both personal and political, that draw on and incorporate science and technology. A number of scientific bodies have emphasized the need to promote pedagogy that enables students to embrace and grapple with integrative and interdisciplinary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) content, increasingly the hallmark of 21st-century challenges (Chamany, Allen, & Tanner, 2008).

Several science education researchers (Dawson & Venville, 2009; Felton, Garcia-Mila, & Gilabert, 2009; McNeill & Pimentel, 2010; Osborne, 2010; Osborne, Sibel Erduran, & Simon, 2004; Rivard & Straw, 2000; Tanner 2009) have emphasized the importance of dialogue in science education and its connection to inquiry and argument (Kuhn, 2005). Felton et al. (2009) distinguished between the educational outcomes of two kinds of dialogue in socio-scientific debates: dispute, in which a student attempts to persuade the group of a particular position, and deliberation, in which student groups are instructed to reach a consensus (Kroll, 2005). Although Felton et al. (2009) observed increases in content knowledge and argument quality with both dispute and deliberative pedagogical models, they found that

   when students engage in consensus
   building toward finding a position,
   rather than competitively
   defending a position, they are
   more likely to understand and
   recall information that can serve
   as evidence both in favor of and
   against their own position, and
   they construct arguments that
   show greater attention to claims
   and evidence on both sides of
   the issue. (p. 433)

Moreover, Felton et al. (2009) found that students using consensus-based models were

   more likely to cite evidence
   for claims on their own side
   than their peers in the disputative
   condition, suggesting that
   the process of collaboratively
   constructing arguments also may
   have helped them appreciate the
   need to substantiate their own
   opinions. (p. 435)

Deliberative democracy

Here, we describe the transformation of a large, nonmajors introductory biology course using the principles of deliberative democracy (DD) to increase student discourse, engagement and broad-based scientific literacy. DD is a model of participatory citizen decision making in the "public sphere" (Gutmann & Thompson, 2004; Habermas, 1990, 1991), in which citizen discussion and debate guides policy and governance. …

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