Decision-making models help students master science skills

Jenny Dauer teaching
4 months 4 weeks ago

In a forthcoming study, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Jenny Dauer demonstrates that teaching and using a seven-step decision-making model helps students become more scientifically literate, and has the potential to overcome subconscious biases and make better-informed decisions.

Dauer, an assistant professor of natural resources, also showed that students who are taught to use step-by-step decision-making are less likely to use arguments that appeal to sentiment to form their decisions and are more likely to have more justifications for decisions based on scientific knowledge and facts.

Dauer developed the decision-making model from cognitive and social psychology research. Using the framework helps students identify their pre-held values and biases and teaches scientific skills like analyzing data and making observations.

“The model encourages thinking about how values should be used in decision-making and requires comparing various options for solving a problem, which can be really hard for students to do,” Dauer said. “The results showed that many of the students were thinking more about the trade-offs among options after using the model.”

Using student outcomes from her 100-level science literacy course -- which is the foundational course for all students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources -- Dauer examined how using decision-making structures affected student thinking about a socio-scientific issue. For the study, a random sample took a pre- and post-survey during a unit on biofuels. Following a discussion on the subject, the students used the model to form a decision, with supporting arguments, for or against the use of biofuels.

Before using the framework, 83 percent of students were highly in favor of biofuels, specifically corn ethanol. That number dropped to 60 percent after using the model. Moderate thinking on biofuels changed from just 13 percent to 34 percent of students. Students’ justificatory statements also increased, showing that they were backing up their decisions with more scientific information.

“Many of the students started thinking about it just a little bit differently,” Dauer said.

The seven steps in the model are defining the problem; listing criteria related to an individual’s values for each option; listing the available options or solutions; finding information about each option; analysis of each option based on the criteria; making a choice; and reviewing the choice.

Dauer said her research can be used by teachers to encourage students to think more critically and more fully engage with science.

“Talking about science from a socio-scientific issues perspective can be really powerful for students and it helps their engagement and retention of information, and it makes learning science more exciting and interesting,” she said.

The study will be published next month in the International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology.