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Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Type



Biological Sciences


Rebekka Darner

Mentor Department

Biological Sciences


James Wolf

Co-Mentor Department

Information Technology


Scientific argumentation is a practice of knowledge building which bridges claims and evidence. It plays an important part in understanding and execution of scientific knowledge (Duschl & Osborne, 2002) and is considered as one of the primary goals in science education (NRC, 2007). Online discussion boards are becoming a common way to engage students in scientific argumentation. However, few studies of scientific argumentation in online environments have been conducted. This study examines scientific argumentation occurring in an asynchronous online discussion board to answer the questions: 1. Does gender composition of discussion groups affect students’ engagement in productive scientific argumentation? 2. To what extent does gender composition of groups engaging in scientific argumentation influence the development of scientific literacy? 3.To what extent does gender composition of discussion groups and the quality of scientific argumentation affect students’ satisfaction with the discussion experience? Participants were recruited from an online introductory biology course taught at a large R2 university in the Midwest United States during the summer of 2018. Students were placed in discussion groups that remained throughout the 6-week course. Groups were assembled according to three gender treatments: all-male (2), all-female (6), mixed-gender (5). At the beginning of the course, students’ scientific literacy was measured using 10 items from the TOSLS (Test of Science Literacy Skills; Gormally, Brickman, & Lut, 2012). Discussions occurring in week 5 of the course were downloaded, de-identified, and coded using the ASAC (Assessment of Scientific Argumentation in the Classroom) protocol (Sampson, Enderle, & Walker, 2012) to measure the quality of scientific argumentation. At the end of the course, 10 different but matched items from the TOSLS were administered, along with a survey of students’ satisfaction with their discussion experiences. A one-factor analysis of variance (ANOVA), using group composition to predict ASAC score, was performed to address the first research question. A repeated-measures ANOVA was used to assess the influence of group composition on pre/post-course growth in scientific literacy, measured by the TOSLS items, to answer the second research question. A two-factor ANOVA, using group composition and ASAC scores to predict satisfaction scores, was performed to answer the last research question. Results obtained from this project assist in understanding scientific argumentation in an online environment, particularly how gender composition of groups influences the quality of scientific argumentation and students’ satisfaction with discussion experiences. This study opens doors for novel curricula and improved online science education.

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