This chapter discusses each of the above topics in turn, recognizing the conceptual overlap among some of them and with the topics discussed in Chapters 5 and 6. In contrast to earlier chapters that included a discipline-by-discipline summary of each topic, the evidence base for these four topics does not support such treatment. Instead, we briefly discuss the cross-disciplinary findings—all of which we have characterized as limited because few studies exist, much of the existing research consists of small-scale investigations, and no reviews have been published—and discuss in more detail the findings from the particular DBER field(s) with the most research to date on these emerging topics. Because these topics warrant further study in the context of DBER, each section ends with an identification of directions for future research. However, unlike previous chapters, this chapter does not conclude with a summary of key findings because DBER on these topics is too limited to support conclusions.


In part, science may be thought of as a vast and powerful compendium of factual information, concepts, principles, and laws that describe the nature of the universe and its inhabitants. But science also comprises a set of investigative processes, or ways of empirically and systematically studying the natural world, to advance the collective understanding of its order. These investigative processes—which we refer to as practices—and the knowledge gained from their application are critical components of scientific disciplines. Without those investigative practices, there would be no new scientific and engineering knowledge. Thus, an understanding of the attributes of science and engineering practices is vital, as is imparting them to new generations of learners.

In contrast to the clear delineation of content knowledge presented in introductory textbooks, no consensus exists on core disciplinary practices at the undergraduate level. Professional societies emphasize science and engineering practices in different ways. In physics, the American Association of Physics Teachers (1997) provides a set of goals for instructional laboratories that emphasize the central role of practices. In engineering, the ABET accreditation criteria F, G, and H focus on the needed skills of teamwork, communication, and ethics (see Chapter 3). In chemistry, the American Chemical Society Committee on Professional Training revised its guidelines for the training of chemists to include the same skills as engineering.1


1The guidelines are available at [accessed March 10, 2012].

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