Examining Science Identity Work and Scientific Literacy in Non-STEM Majors
Scientific literacy is vital for 21st century citizens to have the skills to make informeddecisions based on sound science, and seeing oneself as a science person is important for citizens to feel capable of making such decisions based on science. Science educators are in the best position to encourage these attribute in their students. In particular, undergraduate non-STEM majors make up approximately 55% of college graduates, and college and university faculty are in a particularly important position to offer opportunities for STEM identity work in this population of students to encourage the development of a science person identity, which is intertwined with learning the skills important for scientific literacy like evaluation of science in the news. This mixed-methods study focused on students in a biology course developed primarily for non-STEM majors, and examined their STEM identity work along with evidence of their scientific literacy. Data collected includes surveys, focus groups, observations of group work and final presentations, and final written reflections. Using Wilcoxon Rank Sum tests to compare pre-class and post-class survey responses, student participants felt more like science people following their experiences in this non-STEM majors’ biology course and that their biology professor saw them as science people at the end of the course compared to the beginning of the term. Qualitative analysis supported xi these findings, with participants sharing that they felt like science people when they were successful in school science, had the opportunity to engage with science content in lab or real-life case studies, were recognized by instructors and peers as competent in science, and recognized qualities of scientists that they felt they also shared. In terms of scientific literacy, following their experience in non-STEM majors’ biology, students’ beliefs and attitudes surrounding science became more positive and their self-efficacy and ability to communicate and apply science content to contexts outside of the classroom also were positively impacted. Students were also more confident of their ability to evaluate science as presented in the popular media following the course. While this identity work was taking place, the students also had opportunities to demonstrate and further develop scientific literacy skills, such as the application of content knowledge and communication of scientific ideas, along with highlighting the importance of their evolving beliefs, attitudes, and interests in science. Non-science majors are frequently overlooked when considering research in science education, as research centered around undergraduates tends to focus on STEM major retention or interest, rather than the STEM identity work of those students who have chosen a major in a different field. Therefore, this research contributes to the body of literature with undergraduates in STEM courses, along with literature centered on identity work, which tends to focus on younger age groups (K-12 grades).