This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I Project will deliver simulations over the web for secondary and postsecondary science instruction. These simulations focus explicitly on students coming to understand the "nature of science." By the nature of science, Epistemological Engineering means both the underlying logic of scientific discovery and the way that science is organized around the acquisition and dissemination of data and ideas. The project emphasizes the big picture in science learning: the relationship between experiments and hypotheses, the idea that theories are models and not reality, that the test of a theory is its predictive power. Most students never see this big picture. This project offers a solution, addressing carefully chosen aspects of the nature of science deeply but efficiently. In computer-moderated, networked simulations, students will take on the roles of scientists, working in groups, advancing a (simulated) scientific discipline. These scientist roles will give students experiences to which they can refer, implicitly and explicitly, as they increase their understanding of the nature of science. The project centers on careful design and testing of both the simulations and the lessons in which they are embedded-to ensure that they are as effective as possible.
Tomorrow's citizens need to know how science works. To the degree to which the project is successful, it will help erase dangerous misconceptions about the origins and extent of scientific knowledge, and it will give students tools to evaluate scientific (and quasi-scientific) claims more effectively. Epistemological Engineering conjectures that learning about this "big picture" will encourage some students to persist in science who otherwise might have given it up as sterile and isolating. These include members of traditionally-underrepresented groups. The firm has chosen diverse field-test classrooms with this in mind. The technology of the project also creates research opportunities for learning about students' understanding of the nature of science: In that interest, what students do rather than their opinions is what is recorded. This project also probes unusual models for both delivery of instruction and commercialization in the education world: The Internet is not used to deliver content but rather to mediate a simulation and promote intergroup communication, usually within a single classroom rather than more widely. The firm seeks to do so using subscriptions--a way that is relatively inexpensive to the teacher in the short term, but will provide the firm with ongoing revenue.