Scientific literacy is a complex topic that is often cited, but rarely fully defined.
Teaching scientific literacy often focuses solely on scientific reading and writing.
However, to be scientifically literate, one must also be able to distinguish
between credible and non-credible sources of information. Such ability
involves a thorough knowledge of referencing and the peer-review process. To
incorporate such issues into the teaching of a specific aspect of scientific
literacy, a two-part module was developed with one module focusing on each
of the aforementioned topics. Pre-tests and post-tests assessed the efficacy of
within-module assignments in terms of increasing student knowledge and
confidence in understanding scientific literacy. Following completion of the
modules, students were involved in a project that required the writing a
scientific paper. Statistically significant gains were observed in student
confidence after student completion of the module-specific assignments.
Similar findings occurred in knowledge of basic formatting and peer-review
after completion of the written paper. The timing in which gains occurred
suggests that procedural learning occurred prior to declarative learning.
Thus, a multistep process appears effective in explaining a complex topic such
as scientific literacy to undergraduate students.
Key Words: referencing; scientific literacy; communication; peer-review.
Scientific literacy is a broad topic and notoriously difficult to
Understanding of the Scientific Approach
define. It is often seen as a “buzzword” or a “catchphrase” used
by scientists and science educators in efforts to communicate with
the general public. Scientific literacy, and literacy in general, has
changed much over the past decade with the increasing levels of
accessibility to information through various technological and
social media outlets. The public now has so much information
available that it becomes imperative that they learn how to iden-
tify, understand, and develop attitudes toward scientific presenta-
tions in the media (Julien & Barker, 2009). This means they not
only have to become media savvy, but they must learn some basic
tenets of scientific literacy. The original notion of scientific literacy
refers to learning both science facts and the ability to read and
write science (Glynn & Muth, 1994). This notion is too simplistic,
and thus Miller (1983) further expanded upon this idea, propos-
ing three dimensions of scientific literacy. Though numerous
expansions to scientific literacy have since been proposed, each
additional category still fits neatly into Miller’s (1983) original
This dimension involves the understanding of how science
works, including scientific methodology and basic logic. Subsequent authors to Miller (1983) have added in many attributes
that would fall under this category, including conducting scientific studies, distinguishing experts form non-experts, deciphering
science from non-science, and recognizing the limits of scientific
information (Hurd, 1998; McFarlane, 2013). Overall, understanding the scientific approach encompasses many different
aspects of how science is done and how good science can be
Attitudes Toward Science
This second dimension, which is often viewed as the most important, or at least the most cited in recent literature, refers to how people understand the applications of science. In several cases, scientific
literacy is seen as simply the knowledge and perception of science
held by the general public. In such cases, this dimension is often
subdivided into two distinct components: civic—how an individual
perceives the interaction between science and the environment, jurisprudence, and public policy; and cultural—understanding science in
terms of human achievements (Hurd, 1998; Laugksch, 2000). In
either case, the goal of this dimension is to form a public that knows
enough science not only to understand it but also to become interested in followings its advances (DeBoer, 2000).
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 80, No. 6, pp. 423–428, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. © 2018 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2018.80.6.423.
THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER THE ART OF REFERENCING AS AN OFTEN OVERLOOKED ASPECT OF SCIENTIFIC LITERACY
L E A R N I N G The Art of Referencing as an Often
Overlooked Aspect of Scientific
Literacy: Study of a Classroom
• SUSAN J. REHOREK, NICOLE J. DAFOE