Secondary school students' attitudes o nanotechnology: what are the implications fcr science curiculum development?
Nanotechnology is having an increasing impact on the Australian economy and society. Australian researchers and industry are actively participating in the development of nanotechnology. The 2007 Nanotechnology Capability Directory identified around seventy-five Australian nanotechnology research organisations and eighty nanotechnology companies. The Fourth Edition of Nanotechnology: Australian Capability Report (Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, 2011) contained the most up to date information on the Australian nanotechnology sector. This report listed over 300 entries for companies, research organisations and Government bodies.
Internationally, it was reported that between 1997 and 2005, investment in nanotech research and development by governments around the world, rose from $432 million to about $4.1 billion, and that by 2015, products incorporating nanotechnology would contribute approximately $1 trillion to the global economy (Roco, 2006). Nanotechnology is typically incorporated into products or services which could also be classified under other sectors. The future market size of products incorporating nanotechnology is estimated to be in the range of US$2.6 trillion in 2014 (Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, 2009). It was further predicted, that in 2015, two million workers will be employed in nanotechnology industries (Roco, 2006), many of which are still not even imagined.
In this contemporary context, an aim of secondary science education should be the development of scientifically literate citizens and scientists capable of contributing to and using nanotechnologies in informed and responsible ways. The interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology means achieving this aim is dependent on teaching and learning experiences that provide opportunities for integrating knowledge from all the disciplines of science and understanding science as a human endeavour. The growing demands placed on the workforce, require consideration to be given to the science education needed to enable emerging technologies.
NANOTECHNOLOGY AND THE AUSTRALIAN CURRICULUM
The inclusion of Science as a Human Endeavour in the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2013) and specific reference to emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, has increased the need for contemporary learning resources informed by research. Students study science concepts associated with each of the disciplines: biology, physics, chemistry and earth science and are expected to explain phenomena involving science and its applications. It is important to include contemporary contexts in which science can be learned, including issues and recent research to enhance understanding of science in the world. Arguably, it is current research and its human uses and implications that motivates and excites students.
Examples from the Australian Curriculum, Science as Human Endeavour (SHE) include:
* Be aware of contemporary issues such as water and its management, climate change, stem cell research, nanotechnology, gene technology;
* Apply scientific understandings to make responsible, ethical and informed decisions about issues;
* Be aware of the nature of science and research of Australian scientists;
* Appreciate that science provides rewarding careers; and
* Appreciate the diversity of people who have contributed to, and shaped the development of, science.
Specific reference is made in the Australian Curriculum to emerging technologies and in particular nanotechnology and biotechnology. For example:
Use and influence of science: Advances in science and emerging sciences and technologies can significantly affect people's lives, including generating new career opportunities.
Year 9 SHE elaborations
* investigating the use of nanotechnology in medicine, such as the delivery of pharmaceuticals
* considering the impact of technological advances developed in Australia
* recognising aspects of science, engineering and technology within careers
Year 10 SHE elaborations
* predicting future applications of aspects of nanotechnology on people's lives
* recognising that the study of the universe and the exploration of space involve teams of specialists from the different branches of science, engineering and technology
* considering how the computing requirements in many areas of modern science depend on people working in the area of information technology
* investigating the applications of gene technologies such as gene therapy and genetic engineering
* recognising that scientific developments in areas such as sustainable transport and low-emissions electrical generation require people working in a range of fields of science, engineering and technology A goal of contemporary science education, as illustrated in the Australian Curriculum, is to ensure citizens are scientifically literate; that is they have the competence and disposition to use science to meet the personal and social demands of life at home, at work and in the community (Murcia, 2009). Social constructivist theory, which is currently one of the dominant paradigms underpinning contemporary science education, suggests that students' prior knowledge is fundamental to their engagement and knowledge construction. This study aimed to identify levels of understanding and attitudes to nanotechnology amongst a sample of Australian lower secondary science students, with the view to informing curriculum resource development in the area of science as a human endeavour.
PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING AND ATTITUDES TOWARD NANOTECHNOLOGY
A review of literature to frame this study identified an assumption that citizens would be more open to new technologies and be able to make informed decisions about their use in society, if they knew more about them. For example, a study performed by Ho,
Scheufele, & Corley (2011) suggested that the more a person knew about nanotechnology, the more likely they were to hold positive attitudes. They found that "the public perceived nanotechnology as having greater risks and lesser benefits as compared with the experts (p. 190)". It could then be a concern that Hays, Scott, & Miller (2012) found participants in their study to be largely unaware of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology and that there was little evidence of knowledge increasing over time. More specifically, "four in ten Americans say they have heard nothing at all about nanotechnology, and six in ten admit to hearing nothing at all about nanotechnology used for human enhancements (p. 44)."This research highlighted limited awareness of these new technologies and also indicated skewed perceptions of how they were being used. The majority of respondents tended to associate nano with machines and computers rather than consumer products.
Waldron , Spencer & Batt (2006, p. 571) also found limited understanding of nanotechnology, as 60% of their research participants between the age of 15-59 were only familiar with the term 'nano' and associated it with something small. Children under the age of 14 and those adults 60 and over were the least familiar with nanotechnology. The study found that, when asked to state the smallest thing they could think of, 52% of 11 year olds stated microscopic and nanoscopic objects. More elaborate responses were obtained from participants between the ages of 14-17 years. In this group, over 40% chose answers that suggested some knowledge of the nanoscale world, including references such as 'an atom', 'a proton', or 'a molecule'. The greatest level of awareness of nanoscopic objects was evident in young adults 1822 years of age. Interestingly however, adults did not provide more elaborate responses than children about nanotechnology.
There is evidence in the research literature that attitudes toward nanotechnology are not only influenced by understanding but also factors such as gender, religion and age. For example, a US study conducted by Sims Bainbridge (2002) found that the majority of the people surveyed had a positive attitude towards nanotechnology but more positive attitudes were evident amongst male participants. In response to the statement, 'human beings will benefit greatly from nanotechnology,' 57.5% of their 3909 respondents agreed. In contrast, only 9.0% agreed that nanotechnology was 'threatening to make humans an endangered species.' The study found that "69.2% of the 1787 men agreed with the pro-nanotechnology statement, compared with just 47.6% of the 2111 women" (p. 564). In studies of religion and attitudes to nanotechnology Scheufele, Corley, Shih, Dalrymple, & Ho (2009, p. 93) found a negative relationship between level of religious beliefs and public support for nanotechnology across all countries. Lee, Scheufele & Lewenstein (2005, p. 260) also found that people use their knowledge and beliefs about science in general to evaluate the pros and cons of nanotechnology and to decide whether they support nanotechnology or not. These findings suggest that public opinion about nanotechnology is not only driven by conceptual understandings but also by values and beliefs.
In the case of students' and their teachers' attitudes to the technology, the influence of the mass media was noted. Ho et al. (2011, p. 191) found that "consistent with findings from previous studies (e.g. Lee et al, 2005), mass media was found to shape public perceptions of nanotech". "Communication scholars have argued that the more positive framing of nanotech in the mass media is likely to act as cues in influencing the risks and benefits considerations among the public". Also, Lan (2012) found that teachers' attitudes toward nanotechnology influenced whether nanotechnology was successfully introduced to K-12 students. Teachers in their study with more positive attitudes toward nanotechnology expressed higher motivation to incorporate nanotechnology in their K-12 science programs. Therefore, "enhancing K-12 teachers' positive attitudes toward nanotechnology would be a crucial concern for promoting K-12 nanotechnology education (p.1206)."
The aim of this study was to determine a sample of Western Australian students' understanding of nanotechnology and their opinions of the technology as a human endeavour.
Research questions shaping this study were:
1. 1. What do lower secondary students understand about nanotechnology?
2. 2. What are lower secondary students' opinions of nanotechnology?
3. 3. Are lower secondary students interested in a career as a nanoscientist?
There were 125 lower secondary students participating in the study. These students were either in Year 8 (aged 12) or Year 9 (aged 13) and were from two metropolitan Western Australian independent schools. The schools were selected as they had expressed interest in nanotechnology education initiatives. The teachers in both single sex schools volunteered to facilitate the research process. There were three teachers from the girls' school and one from the boys' school. Hence, this study included 12 boys and 113 girls.
A questionnaire was administered to students by their teacher in a normal science lesson. in these classrooms, there had been no previous discussion or explicit teaching on nanotechnology. The questionnaire required approximately twenty minutes to complete and contained three types of questions.
Firstly, there were three open questions asking students what they know about nanotechnology and the work of a nanoscientist.
* Write what you know about nanotechnology?
* Describe examples of nanotechnology used in everyday life.
* What sort of jobs or tasks do you think a nanoscientist would do when they are working?
Students were then asked to mark an 'X' somewhere along a given line to show how interested they were in a career as a nanoscientist. This line represented a linear scale; 0 = no way, 1 = maybe, 10 = definitely.
Cronbach's alpha measures the internal consistency among scale items and is an indication of whether items are all targeted to the same construct. For this scale, the Cronbach's Alpha was 0.788 for all items. Acceptable internal consistency for a survey is taken to be 0.7 5 a <0.8 and as such this scale was suitable for its purpose.
The findings from analysis are presented for each of the three question types. Firstly, tables and graphs are presented to illustrate the range of responses provided by students about their knowledge of nanotechnology. A gender comparison is then included when looking at the respondents disposition to consider a career as a nanoscientist. Next, frequency distributions across response categories for each item in the Opinions of Nanotechnology Likert scale are presented with consideration given to the rank order of items in relation to 'positivity' to nanotechnology. The influence of gender on opinions to nanotechnology is then presented.
Question 1: Write what you know about nanotechnology?
It is evident in this data that the majority of students (81 responses) had some awareness of small size as a concept associated with nanotechnology. However, a significant number (approx. 25%) reported no knowledge of nanotechnology.
Question 2: Describe examples of nanotechnology used in everyday life.
Limited examples of nanotechnology were provided by this group of students. When examples were listed they were described superficially and mostly related to phone and computer applications. A large group of students (approx. 38%) could not provide any examples of nanotechnology.
Question 3: What sort of jobs or tasks do you think a nanoscientist would do when they are working?
The tasks assigned by this group to the work of a scientist were general in nature and associated with working scientifically. Again, a significant number of students (approx. 29%) stated having no knowledge of the work done by a scientist.
Question 4: Mark an 'X' somewhere along the line to show how interested you are in a career as a nanoscientist.
This line represented a linear scale; 0= no way, 1= maybe, 10= definitely of interest in being a nanoscientist.
There was, on average, a low level of interest shown by this group in a career as a nanoscientist. This data suggests gender was an influencing variable in this career choice. An independent t-test between Males and Females, (p<0.0193) suggested a statistically significant difference between males and females interest in being a nanoscientist. In this sample of secondary students, boys were more likely to want to be a nanoscientist than girls. The significance of this difference should not be over stated due to the small sample of boys (12) taking part in the study.
Each student's item response score was entered into SPSS and frequency distributions across scores were calculated for each item.
An average score was calculated for each item, which could range from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
There were three items that averaged a response score below 3 which means students generally disagreed with the item. The items that students disagreed with were:
* Item 10 - Nanotechnology benefits mainly developed countries
* Item 7 - Nanotechnology will help eradicate poverty and famine in the worlds
* Item 9 - A country needs nanotechnology to become developed
* Item 8 - Nanotechnology is the cause of some environmental problems.
There was only one item that students agreed with (score over 4). This was: Item 14- Scientific theories develop and change all the time All other items showed an ambivalent opinion or uncertainty with average scores ranging from 3.01 to 3.65.
When considering the influence of gender on opinions to nanotechnology, the data set was reduced due to incomplete data from some respondents. There were five girls in the sample that had an incomplete set of responses to all 14 items. These girls were not included in the data set used to compare the average item and total scale score with gender. For this analysis, the total number of participants was 120, that is 12 boys and 108 girls.
The average total scale score was calculated for both males and females; males 49.9 (n=12) and females 44.4 (n=108). These averages represented a neutral to somewhat positive attitude to nanotechnology, given that the maximum and most positive score possible was 70.
The independent t-test conducted across all items (p<0.000) suggests a statistically significant difference between male and female opinions on the items. In this sample of secondary school students, males were more likely to have positive opinions of nanotechnology. Again, gender difference should not be overstated or generalised due to the small number of males in this study.
IMPLICATIONS FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION
This study provides some evidence to suggest lower secondary students have minimal to no knowledge of nanotechnology, an ambivalent to positive opinion of the technology and minimal interest in a career as a nanoscientist. This would suggest that the inclusion of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology into the Australian Curriculum is timely.
Roco (2003) argues that core concepts underlying nanotechnotogy should be introduced at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education. Students need to develop key understandings in physics, biology and chemistry, and to be able to understand the interdisciplinary nature of these sciences in nanotechnology. In addition, students should learn some basic skills with measurement instruments, microscopy and nanofabrication. The development of scientifically literate citizens and scientists, capable of contributing to and using nanotechnologies in informed and responsible ways, is dependent on teaching and learning experiences that provide opportunities for integrating knowledge and processes from all the disciplines of science.
Nanotechnology is a relatively new discipline but it draws on traditional science concepts. As suggested in the elaborations of the Australian Curriculum, nanotechnology can be used to engage students with the real life nature of science as a human endeavour. Nanotechnology could be used as a vehicle for engaging students with science education. This could contribute to turning around the current decline in Australian students taking post compulsory science subjects. Since the 1990s, decreasing numbers of Australian students are studying the physical sciences in senior secondary school. Consequently, there is a shortage of students going on to university science programs.
Providing students with SHE focussed teaching and learning experiences are ideally holistic in nature and driven by socially relevant contexts. Experiences of this nature would not only provide opportunities for students to draw on science concepts and construct understanding but to develop the ability to think critically about the role of science in society and use it as a tool for informed decision making and problem solving in a rapidly changing and developing world (Murcia, 2009). Ethical considerations would have to be an integral component of the learning experience. As with any potential, innovative technology, we should encourage students to think critically and consider potential ethical issues that are inevitable at the intersection of science with society. Students need to be aware of the political and cultural contexts of nanotechnology the associated research and commercialization.
This examination of lower secondary students' knowledge and opinions about nanotechnology suggests strategic learning interventions and resources are required to engage students with science as a human endeavour and emerging technologies such as nanotechnology. Consideration has to be given to learning and teaching practices that show potential to transform not only students' knowledge, but their attitudes and beliefs about science and technology. Students clearly need learning experiences and opportunities that enable them to see a role for themselves either as a scientifically informed citizen and or a future scientist/technologist.
1. Nanotechnology is important for society
2. Nanotechnology will help cure diseases e.g. cancer
3. Thanks to nanotechnology there will be greater opportunities for future generations
4. Nanotechnology makes our lives healthier, easier and more comfortable
5. Nanotechnologies will make work more interesting
6. The benefits of nanotechnology are greater than the harmful effects it could have
7. Nanotechnology will help eradicate poverty and famine in the world
8. Nanotechnology is the cause of some environmental problems
9. A country needs nanotechnology to become developed
10. Nanotechnology benefits mainly the developed countries
11. Scientists follow the scientific method which leads them to correct answers
12. We should trust what scientists say
13. Scientists are neutral and objective
14. Scientific theories develop and change all the time.
Table 1: Opinions of Nanotechnology Scale Items.
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2013). Australian Curriculum. At http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au
Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, (2008). National nanotechnology strategy. At, http://www.innovation.gov.au/Industry/Nanotechnology/Documents/NNSFeb08.pdf. Last accessed 29/1/10.
Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, (2009). Nanotechnology Fact Sheet. At, http://www.innovation.gov.au/Section/AboutDIISR/FactSheets/Pages/NanotechnologyFactSheet. aspx. Last accessed 29/1/13.
Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. (2011). Nanotechnology, Australian Capability Report. Fourth edition. At, http://nanotechnology.org.au/documents/releases/ANACapReport2011.pdf. Last accessed 25/7/13
Hays, S., Scott, J. & Miller, C. (2012). Nanotechnology, the Brain, and the Future. Springer: Dortrecht. EBL e-book.
Ho, S., Scheufele, D. & Corley, E. (2011). Value Predispositions, Mass Media, and Attitudes Toward Nanotechnology: The Interplay of Public and Experts. Science Communication. 33(2), 167-200.
Lan, Y. (2012). Development of an Attitude Scale to Assess K-12 Teachers' Attitudes toward Nanotechnology. International Journal of Science Education. 34(8), 1189-1210.
Lee, C., Scheufele D. & Lewenstein, B. (2005). Public Attitudes Toward Emerging Technologies: Examining the Interactive Effects of Cognitions and Affect on Public Attitudes toward Nanotechnology. Science Communication. 27(2), 240-267.
Murcia, K. (2009). Re-thinking the development of scientific literacy through a rope metaphor. Research in Science Education. 39(2), 215-229.
Roco, M. (2003). Converging science and technology at the nanoscale: opportunities for education and training. Nature Biotechnology. 21, 1247- 1249.
Roco, M. (2006). Nanotechnology's Future. Scientific American. 295(2), 39.
Scheufele, D., Corley, E., Shih, T., Dalrymple, K., & Ho, S. (2009). Religious beliefs and public attitudes toward nanotechnology in Europe and the United States. Nature Nanotechnology, 4(2), 91-4.
Schreiner, Camilla & Sjoberg, Svein (2004). Sowing the seeds of ROSE. Background, Rationale, Questionnaire Development and Data Collection for ROSE (The Relevance of Science Education) - a comparative study of students' views of science and science education. Oslo: Dept. of Teacher Education and School Development, University of Oslo. At, http://roseproject.no/key-documents/key-docs/ad0404-sowing-rose.pdf. Last accessed 25/7/13.
Sims Bainbridge, W. (2002). Public attitudes toward nanotechnology. Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 4(6), 561-570.
Waldron, A., Spencer, D. & Batt, C. (2006). The current state of public understanding of nanotechnology. Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 8. 569-575.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Karen Murcia is an Associate Professor of Science Education. She has a research interest in interactive multimodal pedagogies and technologies for enaging learners in developing scientific literacy.
CATEGORY DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE FREQUENCY TITLE RESPONSES Small size Small types "Small pieces 81 of technology of developed technology, small particles" Change Changes "It is used 8 Properties properties in to change things to be things into smaller smaller particles things" Important NT is "It can make 4 important our life technology in better" our world and for the future Medical Cures medical "Cure 4 Applications conditions diseases" Technology It is used in "Computers, 17 technology, games" like computers, games Don't know Don't know "Don't know 31 what it is what it is used for used for" Other Alternate N/A 0 responses to defined categories Table 2: Knowledge about nanotechnology. CATEGORY DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE FREQUENCY TITLE RESPONSES 1 Mobile iOS devices, "iPhones" 29 Devices android devices, etc Medical In the medical "Can help cure 9 field, curing diseases" diseases, medical products Cosmetics In cosmetics, "Sunscreen" 10 esp., sunscreen Computing Found in "Computers and 27 computers and tablets" other IT devices Science fn the science "Space 8 related areas, exploration, space microchips" exploration, microchips. Don't know Don't know " Don't know" 48 what it is found in Other Alternate "Rainbow, TV" 4 responses to defined categories Table 3: Examples of nanotechnology. CATEGORY TITLE DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE RESPONSES FREQUENCY 1 Creating and Used in creating To make things 29 Production and producing that are small things 2 Science Used in the Space exploration 9 Related science field to find out about things and discover 3 Computing Used in the Creating games 10 development and use of computers 4 Experimental Use to help find To look at small 27 Inquiry out about things things (investigations) 5 Electronic Used in the Used to make new 8 Technologies development and things use of modern technologies 6 Don't know Don't know what Don't Know 48 areas or work it could be used in 7 Other Alternate Medical/surgery, 4 responses to looking at small defined thinas cateaories Table 4: Examples of tasks in a nanoscientists' job. ENDER MEAN N STD. DEVIATION Female 2.44 107 1.958 Male 3.25 12 2.667 All 2.52 119 2.041 Table 5: Gender and interest in a career as a nanoscientist. Table 6: Frequency distributions of responses in scores for each scale item ITEM 1 2 3 4 5 1 2(1.6%) 1(0.8%) 72 (57.6%) 41(32.8%) 7(5.6%) 2 0 9(7.2%) 58 (46.4%) 43(34.4%) 13 (10.4%) 3 0 5 (4%) 48(38.4%) 55 (44%) 15 (12%) 4 1(0.8%) 6(4.8%) 83 (66.4%) 27(21.6%) 6(4.8%) 5 1(0.8%) 8(6.4%) 69 (55.2%) 39(31.2%) 6(4.8%) 6 1(0.8%) 10(8%) 90 (72%) 18(14.4%) 4(3.2%) 7 2(1.6%) 33 (26.4%) 75 (60%) 10 (8%) 3(2.4%) 8 5 (4%) 10 (7.9%) 93 (73.8%) 14(11.1%) 2(1.6%) 9 10(7.9%) 20 (16%) 67 (53.6%) 24 (19.2%) 2(1.6%) 10 8(6.3%) 41(32.5%) 65 (51.6%) 7(5.6%) 2(i.6%) 1 1 1(0.8%) 8(6.4%) 73 (58.4%) 32 (25.6%) 7(5.6%) 12 7(5.6%) 19 (15.2%) 60 (48%) 32(25.6%) 4(3.2%) 13 6(4.8%) 16 (12.8%) 74 (59.2%) 23 (18.4%) 3(2.4%) 14 1(0.8%) 0 26 (20.8%) 52(41.6%) 44(35.2%) ITEM BLANK 1 2(1.6%) 2 2(1.6%) 3 2(1.6%) 4 2(1.6%) 5 2(1.6%) 6 2(1.6%) 7 2(1.6%) 8 2(1.6%) 9 2 (1.6%) 10 3(2.4%) 1 1 4(3.2%) 12 3(2.4%) 13 3(2.4%) 14 2(1.6%) RANK ITEM MEAN N STD. DEVIATION 1 Item 4.12 123 .795 14 2 Item 3.65 123 .746 3 3 Item 3.49 123 .783 2 4 item1 3.41 123 .688 5 Item5 3.33 123 .709 6 Item11 3.30 121 .715 7 Item4 3.25 123 .660 8 Item6 3.11 123 .617 9 Item12 3.06 122 .884 10 item13 3.01 122 .787 11 Item8 2.98 124 .650 12 Item9 2.90 123 .863 13 Item7 2.83 123 .698 14 Item10 2.62 122 .764 Table 7: Rank order of average response to each scale item ITEM FEMALE FEMALE MALE MALE T-TEST N MEAN N MEAN 1 108 3.35 12 3.92 0.007 2 108 3.39 12 4.42 0 3 108 3.57 12 4.25 0.003 4 108 3.19 12 3.92 0 5 108 3.32 12 3.42 0.672 6 108 3.11 12 3.25 0.461 7 108 2.79 12 3.17 0.077 8 108 2.92 12 3.50 0.003 9 108 2.97 12 2.25 0.006 10 108 2.62 12 2.67 0.844 11 108 3.27 12 3.50 0.289 12 108 3.03 12 3.42 0.15 13 108 2.96 12 3.50 0.025 14 108 4.05 12 4.75 0.003 Table 8: Gender comparison for each scale item. GENDER N MEAN STD. STD. ERROR DEVIATION MEAN Female 108 44.54 4.16 0.40 Male 12 49.92 5.40 1.56 Table 9: Mean and standard deviation for male and females opinion of nanotechnology.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2013|
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