Scientific Community Labs


Why SCL?

Scientiifc community labs (SCL) are designed to give students the experience of participating in a model of a realistic scientific community at an early stage in their scientific training.  In traditional labs, students often receive very detailed guidance, allowing them to complete the lab and get a reasonable result even if they have no understanding of what is being done or why.  Traditional labs often appear to the students to be set up for the purpose of "demonstrating the truth of the theory you were taught in lecture and read about in the text."  This can have the unfortunate side effect of developing an epistemological misconception -- the idea that science largely develops by testing someone's arbitrary made up hypotheses.  The firm base for science that is developed through extensive observation and experiment can be missed.

 

In the SCL, students are given a simple question that can be explored through experiments.  They work in groups and are given time to design an experiment, carry it out, analyze it, and present their results for discussion with the other students in the class.  They critique each other's experiments and they finally have to evaluate how they would do their experiments better if they had the opportunity to repeat it.  Throughout, they are asked to report not only their results and how well they think they know them.  The intent is to give "error analysis" an authentic purpose and value rather than have it seem just an automated routine with no clear purpose.

 

Description of the SCL

 

Research

The SCL labs were developed as part of the NSF supported project, Learning How to Learn Science

 

Published and submitted papers that include descriptions of the SCL and present the results of research on their effectiveness:

 

Dissertations on SCL