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Epistemological views in authentic science practice : a cross-discipline comparison of scientists' views of nature of science and scientific inquiry

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  • This study explored scientists' epistemological views of science and compared views based upon scientists' discipline area and primary investigative approach. Participants were 24 scientists, averaging 25 years research experience, representing four discipline areas: life science (10), Earth and space science (5), physics (5), chemistry (5); and four investigative approaches: experimental (10), nonexperimental (5), combination (5), theoretical (4). Views of nature of science (NOS) and scientific inquiry (NOSI) were assessed through two open-ended questionnaires, the VNOS-Sci and the VOSI-Sci, and interviews. The analysis revealed 16 categories of scientists' NOS/NOSI views that are applicable across the science disciplines and contexts of this study. The results show that these participants' epistemological views of science are complex and sophisticated, "informed" in some areas, but not necessarily. On a level of broad generality, scientists' views are as similar within as across groups, demonstrating overall consistency in how these scientists' view the 16 categories of NOS/NOSI. Views expressed are contextiialized within science practices. However, there are variations in finer details of description and applicability. Some variation is related to contextual issues of discipline anchor research approach, yet no overarching pattern emerges to explain all the tendencies. With a few exceptions, variances are idiosyncratic, emerging at levels of specificity tied to individual contexts and experiences. Such finer levels of specificity and sophistication are deemed impractical for the K-12 science classroom. Exceptions include views of justification and reproducibility. Results suggest that explicit/reflective instruction should target general NOS/NOSI instruction emphasizing connections among aspects and inquiry contexts. Variety in inquiry experiences is recommended. Teachers should raise awareness that some epistemological features of science demonstrate variability depending on the type of investigation and system under study. As such, learners need exposure and explicit/reflective instruction that promotes inclusive views of authentic science practices. Secondly, results demonstrate a variety of authentic science contexts are appropriate for addressing core features of and interdependencies among NOS/NOSI. Thirdly, the results suggest consensus on categories of NOS and scientific inquiry. Finally, this study enhances understanding of the scientific community and authentic practices of science; elements that enable teachers to connect real-world science to classroom science.
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