College science professors' understanding and use of nature of science

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


John Tillotson


Science education, Higher education

Subject Categories



This study examined how college science faculty who teach introductory level undergraduate science courses including the fields of chemistry, biology, physics, and earth science, understand and define science and nature of science (NOS), how these instructors teach the aspects of NOS to their students, and the rationales they provide for their teaching practices. Participants were seventeen science instructors from five different institutions in the northeastern U.S. Participants were interviewed and four of them were further observed in their settings.

Consistent with previous research, the findings revealed that the participants in this study held sophisticated and complex conceptions of NOS. In some instances their views were in line with the views promoted by science philosophers, and in other instances their views were more mixed. However, having sophisticated and complex understandings of the aspects of NOS did not help the science faculty to incorporate and teach purposefully about them in their instruction. The critical role and possible influences of other contextual variables concerning the teaching of science, such as drive to cover content, large class size, lack of management and organizational skills, teaching experience, instructors' concerns for students' abilities and motivation, and lack of resources and experiences for assessing conceptions of NOS were deemed more important for the instructors than teaching for understanding of NOS.

Results suggest reduction in the size of introductory science classes to allow for more meaningful instruction and incorporation of new, innovative teaching styles, and support the view that teachers develop and gain their future knowledge for practice, not only in their methods classes, but also throughout their whole undergraduate education.


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