Scientific literacy and the news in education

Billy McClune & Ruth Jarman write: “News is a significant media form and one through which, with increasing frequency, interesting and important science-related matters are brought to public attention. As a recent report by the Science and Media Expert Group (SMEG) (2010) observes ‘some of the most important science debates of our times have been conducted on the front pages and in the headlines of the mainstream news’ (p. 3). With reason, then, there is a growing interest among the science education community in such reporting both as a resource and as a target for teaching and learning.” (p.1)

According to McClune & Jarman: “Though ‘scientific literacy’ is widely accepted as a desirable goal for school science education, it is widely acknowledged that there is less agreement as to how it should be conceptualised and less still as to how it should be operationalised (Bybee, 1997; DeBoer, 2000; Dillon, 2009; Fensham, 2004; Hodson, 2008; Hurd, 1998; Jenkins, 1994; Laugksch, 2000) Striking, then, is the measure of consensus that scientific literacy relates, in some way, to science in the media, including news. Sometimes, indeed, an individual’s ability to deal with science in the news is seen as its defining characteristic. Thus, Hazen and Trefil (1991) submit ‘If you can understand the news of the day as it relates to science … then, as far as we are concerned you are scientifically literate’ (p. xii). Few, however, view the concept that narrowly. More typically an ability to engage critically with science in the news is seen as one among a number of manifestations of, requirements of and/or resources for scientific literacy.” (p.3)

While McClune & Jarman point out that the use of newspapers as an educational tool has been advocated since before the 19th century, they also observe that “it is only relatively recently (Yore, Bisanz, & Hand, 2003) that firm evidence is found for a widespread interest among science educators in teaching and learning through and about science in the news. Within the literature, the matter is raised most commonly in the context of ‘scientific literacy’, and this serves as starting point for this review.” (p.2)

“In the literature, the association of scientific literacy and news-based study is most frequently justified as follows. For the vast majority of adults, the media constitute their main source of information about science and, significantly, about sciencerelated matters that impact their lives and their communities, local and global (Hansen, 2009; National Research Council, 2009; Rennie & Stocklmayer, 2003; SMEG, 2010). This reportage influences the individual or community, as it were, through omission and commission. Some matters are simply not brought to public attention. For those that are, what is presented may influence perspectives, opinions, decisions and actions.” (p.3)

“In as much as scientific literacy is viewed as preparing young people to engage effectively with the science they encounter in everyday life, then:

It follows that an education designed to enhance scientific literacy should intersect in some way with science in the media, either through providing learning experiences to promote an aptitude and ability to engage critically with such material or at the very least by expecting this aptitude and ability to flow (somehow) from that education.” (Jarman & McClune (an earlier paper), quoted p.3)

Scientific literacy and citizenship

“While ‘scientific literacy’ constitutes the predominant frame within which the study of media texts is discussed in the literature, there are others, and five will be mentioned here [which do not go unchallenged, McClune and Jarman hasten to add, p.5]. Firstly, ‘science and citizenship education’, closely linked with [-p.5] scientific literacy in many of its conceptualisations, is also common. […Davies] quite properly stresses, science for everyday coping is ‘a very different animal than science for citizenship’ (p. 1758). Secondly, the theme also arises within that rich seam in the science education literature framed most strongly in terms of ‘language, literacy and learning’” (pp.4-5)

“In a third framing of the issue, the study of media texts is raised in writings advocating ‘the linking of formal and informal science education contexts’ (e.g. Braund & Reiss, 2004; Stocklmayer et al., 2010; Wellington, 1991). Wellington (1991), among the first to explore how news reports might actually be used in the science classroom, justifies the study of this ‘informal source of learning’ on the grounds that ‘one of the goals of formal education is … to enable future citizens to make sense of and examine critically the science-related material they are likely to read … after formal education ceases’ (p. 370). Again, strong links with scientific literacy are made. Fourthly, there is a body of work, much with a specifically professional target, which takes as its entry point the ‘relevance’ of news and its impact on student engagement and enjoyment.
Finally, the literature discussed above has the individual cast in the role of news consumer. A very interesting body of work casts the student in the role of news creator. Most commonly this is in the context of ‘writing-to-learn’ tasks where, alongside traditional writing tasks, sometimes ‘non-traditional’ writing tasks such as the production of news-style reports are recommended.” (p.5) “A potent way to learn about news texts is to produce news texts (Davison, 1992; Watling, 2001) As Masterman (1985), an eminent media educator, writes: ‘If students are to understand media texts as constructions, then it will obviously be helpful if they have firsthand experience of the construction process from the inside’ (p. 26).” (p.5)

The link pointed to between science, citizenship, and education here particularly interests me. Earlier, McClune & Jarman also note: “…most writers, in their discussion of scientific literacy consider not only the individual as individual, but also as ‘citizen’. Perspectives vary. On the one hand, for example, DeBoer (2000) refers to a requirement ‘to stay informed and to offer opinions about (particular) issues when appropriate’ (p. 59). On the other hand, writers such as Hodson (1999) and Roth (2003) advocate more active participation in a change process. Zimmerman, Bisanz and Bisanz’ s (1999) statement is relevant to both perspectives: ‘Clearly the ability to read and critically evaluate media is an important skill for citizens in a democracy’ (p. 1). Surprisingly, in this context, it is seldom suggested that students create their own media products.” (p.4)

“[Another] important, observation relates to genre, a consideration in the science education literature, and notable largely by its absence (Jarman & McClune, 2010). Surprisingly few, in their discussion of scientific literacy as supportive of engagement with science-related news, draw attention to science journalism as a distinctive genre of science writing with all that this implies in respect of the knowledge, skills and habits of mind facilitating access and analysis. Yet Gregory and Miller (1998), whose writing locates in the science communication literature, contend: ‘… understanding science-in-the-media has something to do with understanding media science, but mostly it is about understanding media’ (p. 106). There are exceptions, of course. For example, Ratcliffe and Grace (2003) propose ‘[a] first step in considering media reporting can be to focus on the features, opportunities and constraints presented by different types of media’ (p. 74).” (p.6)

Ref: Billy McClune & Ruth Jarman (2012): Encouraging and equipping students to engage critically with science in the news: what can we learn from the literature?, Studies in Science Education, 48:1, 1-49.

Abstract: Many educational reforms have as one of their key goals the promotion of scientific literacy and they encourage engagement with science in the news as one aspect of this. The research indicates teachers using the news do so for a variety of reasons, sometimes with tangential links to the promotion of scientific literacy. Demonstrating the relevance of science to the world beyond the classroom or making links to socio-scientific issues and promoting discussion on ethical dilemmas are all seen as potential reasons for engaging with science–related news. However, media related issues are often not addressed. Increasingly the need for a more comprehensive approach, including, for example, teaching about media awareness in the context of science reporting, is highlighted. The steady growth of literature describing the use of science-related news along with research studies charting students’ responses to science news media has stimulated discussion and study of pedagogical issues and prompted this review. Key literature relevant to students’ engagement with science-related news reports has been contextualised and reviewed to identify core issues for teachers, teacher educators and curriculum planners. These are listed under the headings of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, the implications are considered and directions for further research suggested.


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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