Assessing scientific literacy skill perceptions and practical capabilities in fourth year undergraduate biological science students

Nadia M Cartwright, Danyelle M Liddle, Benjamin Arceneaux, Genevieve Newton, Jennifer M Monk


In a fourth year undergraduate nutritional toxicology course that included an instructional emphasis on scientific literature critique activities and assessments, we determined the change in students’ (n=144) scientific literacy (SL) skills. The change in students’ perceived and practical SL skills were determined by the completion of two surveys, administered at the start and end of the semester. Additionally, we conducted a follow-up SL survey at the end of the subsequent academic semester (i.e., four months later) to determine if students retained any improvements in their SL skills. Over the semester, students showed improvements in their perceived capabilities of all SL skill parameters assessed (P<0.05); however, the most significant gains were apparent in the areas of i) knowledge application (specifically identifying novel problems or research questions and using new information to address unfamiliar problems or knowledge gaps), and ii) knowledge translation and communication (translating complex information from the scientific literature into clear and understandable terms). There was no change in students TOSLS score between the start and end of the semester (P>0.05). In the follow-up SL survey students showed further improvements in their perceptions of the SL skills for 7 or the 10 parameters assessed compared to the end of the previous semester (P<0.05), however, there remained no change in their practical SL skills assessed using TOSLS. Collectively, these data demonstrate that students’ perceptions of their SL capabilities may not align with their practical capabilities.

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Copyright (c) 2020 Nadia M Cartwright, Danyelle M Liddle, Benjamin Arceneaux, Genevieve Newton, Jennifer M Monk

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International Journal of Higher Education
ISSN 1927-6044 (Print) ISSN 1927-6052 (Online) Email:

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