Debating the Evidence: A Futurelab Prototype Research Report

Mary Ulicsak, Paul Howard-Jones, Keri Facer

01 August 2005

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Science impacts upon all our lives and a better understanding of the opportunities and limitations of the scientific process is becoming increasingly important for all citizens. The goal of Debating the Evidence is to create a safe environment that encourages students to critically evaluate and discuss scientific evidence in scenarios where social consequences are high and when the evidence is sometimes incomplete or conflicting.

Debating the Evidence was designed to be innovative in three key areas, as summarised below:

  • Engagement with uncertainty: It was intended that this would be achieved via collaborative prediction-making based on evidence that was partially inconsistent. It was intended that such an experience would improve students' awareness of the importance and limitations of scientific evidence.
  • Dual responsibility: The software was designed for pairs, but theories and predictions were entered first individually and then as a response agreed by the pair. Ideally, each student would have their own mouse for inputting their individual response. This was intended to support collaboration through committing individuals to form personal as well as negotiated theories. It also facilitated analysis of inter- and intra-individual strategies by the system and the production of formative feedback.
  • Automated formative feedback: The software provided students with prediction feedback and also formative feedback regarding the problem-solving strategies demonstrated and the extent of their peer co-operation, that is, how they appeared to choose the joint response. Formative feedback was carried out by the system via a dynamic analysis of the students' responses. This was intended to improve students' consideration of scientific evidence and the extent to which they collaborated on the problem-solving task. Analysis of the students' behaviour used the relationship between their theories and their predictions, and the sequence in which these occurred, to characterise their thinking strategies and provide appropriate advice to the students about how these could be improved.
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