Public Interest in Scientific Literacy

“Science literacy is less about what you know and more about how your brain is wired for asking questions,” says Neil deGrasse Tyson. In this way, it seems that scientific literacy should be not only about what you know. Perhaps more importantly, it should account for how you gained that knowledge. Exploration is in our nature. The search for knowledge is a lifelong pursuit that doesn’t simply end once we have finished with traditional schooling.

The concept seems simple enough, and yet our traditional measures of scientific literacy tend to focus exclusively on classroom-based learning. It rests on the idea that a person should have a base level of knowledge regarding scientific facts to achieve literacy. However, an ability to recite facts does not provide a complete view of one’s capability for scientific thought or reasoning. In our search for increasing scientific literacy, have we focused too much on the end-goal at the expense of finding meaningful ways to encourage literacy?

The Current State of Scientific Literacy

According to the results of 2016 survey by the Institute for Social Research, public interest in science has exhibited consistent growth. The results show that 51% of those surveyed expressed an interest in science. Despite this, the rate of scientific literacy in the US has remained constant for over a decade, sitting at 28%. How is it, that despite the rising interest in science, we have been unable to see any measurable progress in scientific literacy?

The answer is that our understanding of what scientific literacy should mean is increasingly narrow and prioritizes classroom-based learning over other types of learning. According to the University of Michigan, the scientific literacy rate in adults is “driven primarily by the completion of college-level science courses and completion of a baccalaureate degree.” In other words, to be considered scientifically literate, one essentially must work in a STEM field.

This definition of scientific literacy provides an incomplete view of the variety of human experiences through which an individual gains knowledge. Individual interests and realities often motivate personal learning. It is a reaction to our lived experiences as members of society. Therefore, to encourage higher rates of scientific literacy, we need to meet learners where they are, instead where we think they should be. For this reason, we have developed a new framework for evaluating scientific literacy that seeks to accommodate the very rapidly changing nature of where and why people learn STEM in the 21st century.

The New Scientific Literacy Framework

This new framework, developed by Arck Interactive in partnership with the Institute for Learning Innovation and the National Science Foundation, is structured along four interacting but semi-independent domains: 1) general science knowledge; 2) self-defined areas of science knowledge and expertise; 3) attitudes and beliefs related to science; and 4) the skills and competencies necessary to participate in science-related pursuits and discussion, including measures of modes of science thinking. By reconceptualizing our understanding of what it means to be scientifically literate, we seek to create a tool that, for the first time, measures the true complexity and nuance of science literacy.

ScienceVine: A 21st Century Solution for Increasing Scientific Literacy

ScienceVine is our free-choice learning tool, through which we seek to empower the public by providing them with immediate and personalized feedback. The platform allows users to apply scientific methodologies to everyday projects in a gamified environment that rewards progress with badges, science related products and discounts on memberships to many scientific institutions, encouraging them to continue their self-led learning experience.

With this tool, not only will we be able to measure science literacy, we can actively stimulate growth in the percentage of adults that will be considered scientifically literate. ScienceVine puts the tools for literacy directly in the hands of the individual, rather than providing a single, rigid path for literacy that discounts their experiences.

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