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A Comparison of Introductory Science Textbooks: A Sampling and Content Analysis of Non-Discipline-Specific Scientific Concepts

By: & Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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For our study, we sampled college introductory science textbooks and performed a content analysis of the subject matter. We were interested in students' opportunities to acquire non-discipline-specific scientific literacy. The more commonly known science literacy is familiarity with discipline-specific knowledge such as Einstein’s theory of relativity, Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Pavlov’s experiments with classical conditioning, some basic facts of the periodic table, and so on. However, scientific literacy is the understanding of basic concepts and process common to all sciences, regardless of discipline. For example, (a) knowing what scientific theories, laws, hypotheses, and data are; (b) understanding the importance of falsifiability, appropriate controls, and variation; and (c) recognizing the differences between scientific and anecdotal evidence. It occurred to us that introductory science courses are the first opportunity for most college students to learn such concepts. For non-science majors, these are probably the only opportunity. We chose a sample of 10 introductory college-level science textbooks in each of the following disciplines: biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. Our content analysis required the creation of a key word list relevant to non-discipline-specific scientific literacy. Using this list, our analysis generated a count of how many pages each textbook dedicated to presenting and defining these scientific concepts. The results showed a significant difference with psychology having by far the strongest commitment to scientific literacy: Psychology 20.7 pages, Biology 6.9 pages, Physics 1.6 pages, and Chemistry, 1.4 pages (F(3, 36) = 35.87, p < .001).

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