New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

Bringing formal and informal reasoning assessment together: Can computer-based assessment be a solution?

Nani Teig, Department of Teacher Education and School Research University of Oslo (Norway)

Ronny Scherer, University of Oslo (Norway)


Scientific reasoning represents a set of skills students need to acquire in order to successfully participate in scientific practices. Hence, educational research has focused on developing and validating assessments of student learning that capture the two different components of the construct, namely formal and informal reasoning. Here, we illustrate why we believe that it is time for a new era of scientific reasoning assessments that bring these components together, and how computer-based assessments (CBAs) might accomplish this.
Both types of reasoning are used to manipulate existing information and share the same goal of generating new knowledge. While formal reasoning is judged by whether or not conclusions are valid, informal reasoning is assessed based on the quality of premises and their potential for strengthening conclusions.
A broad range of scientific practices in school science is dominated by working in belief mode (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 2006). Outside the classroom, however, students need to make decisions regarding problems with uncertain premises by working in design mode. Teachers should have ways to assess how students improve on their existing ideas by searching beyond what they already know rather than simply making sure their ideas align with accepted theories. It is therefore important to build a scientific reasoning assessment that incorporates both formal and informal reasoning skills in order to better measure the constructs underlying scientific reasoning.
The current developments in CBAs provide several opportunities to assess scientific reasoning in a way that reflects the complexities of formal and informal reasoning while also effectively measuring learning outcomes. First, CBAs enable us to not only investigate students' individual reasoning skills but also their performance in group discussions. Second, CBAs have the potential to provide stimulating, interactive environments in which students can demonstrate their formal and informal reasoning. Third, CBAs offer the ability to provide students with the necessary feedback to help them take control of their own learning. Based on the strong conceptual connection between formal and informal reasoning, we argue that it is necessary to bring both components together for the assessment of scientific reasoning, and CBAs can be an important mean to accomplish this.

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