Science Process Skills

Skills for the process of scientific inquiry and problem solving

The CourseSource Science Process Skills Learning Framework is based on the BioSkills Guide, a set of program- and course-level learning outcomes that elaborate what general biology majors should be able to do by the time they graduate. Rooted in the six core competencies of Vision and Change, the BioSkills Guide was developed by Alexa Clemmons, Jerry Timbrook, Jon Herron, and Alison Crowe (Clemmons et al., 2020) and nationally validated using input from over 600 college biology educators from a range of biology subdisciplines and institution types.

The BioSkills Guide has been adapted into the table below which lists essential learning goals for undergraduate biology students as well as sample learning objectives.  

The Science Process Skills Learning Framework was adapted from the BioSkills Guide by Course Editors (Tracie Marcella Addy, Katie Burnette, Benjamin Martin, Thomas Merritt, and Iglika Pavlova) and leadership staff (Jenny Knight and Sharleen Flowers) in collaboration with the BioSkills authors.

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Science Process Skills Learning Framework

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Society Learning Goals


Process of Science

Explain how science generates knowledge of the natural world

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Explain how scientists use inference and evidence-based reasoning to generate knowledge
  • Describe the iterative nature of science and how new evidence can lead to the revision of scientific knowledge

Locate, interpret, and evaluate scientific information and primary literature

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Find and evaluate the credibility of a variety of sources of scientific information, including popular science media and scientific journals
  • Interpret, summarize, and evaluate evidence in primary literature
  • Evaluate claims in scientific papers, popular science media, and other sources using evidence-based reasoning

Pose testable questions and hypotheses to address gaps in knowledge

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Recognize gaps in our current understanding of a biological system or process and identify what specific information is missing
  • Develop research questions based on your own or others’ observations
  • Formulate testable hypotheses and state their predictions

Plan, evaluate, and implement scientific investigations

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Compare the strengths and limitations of various study designs
  • Design controlled experiments, including plans for analyzing the data
  • Execute protocols and accurately record measurements and observations
  • Identify methodological problems and suggest how to troubleshoot them
  • Evaluate and suggest best practices for responsible research conduct (e.g., lab safety, record keeping, proper citation of sources)

Interpret, evaluate, and draw conclusions from data

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Analyze data, summarize resulting patterns, and draw appropriate conclusions
  • Describe sources of error and uncertainty in data

Construct explanations and make evidence-based arguments about the natural world

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Make evidence-based arguments using your own and others’ findings
  • Relate conclusions to original hypothesis, consider alternative hypotheses, and suggest future research directions based on findings

Address novel questions through authentic research experiences

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Identify a novel research question and propose an appropriate study design to test it
  • Given a research question, formulate a hypothesis, identify a relevant online data set, and run appropriate analyses to test hypothesis
  • Follow protocols to gather data in the field or lab, summarize and find patterns, and identify follow-up questions to address uncertainty in results
  • After attempting an experiment or study, reflect on its success and failures and repeat with adjustments
Modeling/ Developing and Using Models

Recognize the important roles that scientific models, of many different types (conceptual, mathematical, physical, etc.), play in predicting and communicating biological phenomena

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Describe why biologists use simplified representations (models) when solving problems and communicating ideas
  • Given two models of the same biological process or system, compare their strengths, limitations, and assumptions

Make inferences and solve problems using models and simulations

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Summarize relationships and trends that can be inferred from a given model or simulation
  • Use models and simulations to make predictions and refine hypotheses

Build and evaluate models of biological systems

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Build and revise conceptual models to propose how a biological system or process works
  • Identify important components of a system and describe how they influence each other (e.g., positively or negatively)
  • Evaluate conceptual, mathematical, or computational models by comparing their predictions with empirical data
Quantitative Reasoning/ Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Use basic mathematics (e.g., algebra, probability, unit conversion) in biological contexts

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Perform basic calculations (e.g., percentages, frequencies, rates, means)
  • Select and apply appropriate equations (e.g., Hardy-Weinberg, Nernst, Gibbs free energy) to solve problems
  • Interpret and manipulate mathematical relationships (e.g., scale, ratios, units) to make quantitative comparisons
  • Use probability and understanding of biological variability to reason about biological processes and statistical analyses
  • Use rough estimates informed by biological knowledge to check quantitative work
  • Describe how quantitative reasoning helps biologists understand the natural world

Apply the tools of graphing, statistics, and data science to analyze biological data

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Record, organize, and annotate simple data sets
  • Create and interpret informative graphs and other data visualizations
  • Select, carry out, and interpret statistical analyses
  • Describe how biologists answer research questions using databases, large data sets, and data science tools
  • Interpret the biological meaning of quantitative results
Interdisciplinary Nature of Science

Integrate concepts across other STEM disciplines (e.g., chemistry, physics) and multiple fields of biology (e.g., cell biology, ecology)

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Given a biological problem, identify relevant concepts from other STEM disciplines or fields of biology
  • Build models or explanations of simple biological processes that include concepts from other STEM disciplines or multiple fields of biology

Consider interdisciplinary solutions to real-world problems

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Describe examples of real-world problems that are too complex to be solved by applying biological approaches alone
  • Suggest how collaborators in STEM & non-STEM disciplines could contribute to solutions of real-world problems
  • Be able to explain biological concepts, data, and methods, including their limitations, using language understandable by collaborators in other disciplines
Communication and Collaboration

Share ideas, data, and findings with others clearly and accurately

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Use appropriate language and style to communicate science effectively to targeted audiences (e.g., general public, biology experts, collaborators in other disciplines)
  • Use a variety of modes to communicate science (e.g., oral, written, visual)

Work productively in teams with people who have diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Work with teammates to establish and periodically update group plans and expectations (e.g., team goals, project timeline, rules for group interactions, individual and collaborative tasks)
  • Elicit, listen to, and incorporate ideas from teammates with different perspectives and backgrounds
  • Work effectively with teammates to complete projects

Provide and respond to constructive feedback in order to improve individual and team work

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Evaluate feedback from others and revise work or behavior appropriately
  • Critique others’ work and ideas constructively and respectfully

Reflect on your own learning, performance, and achievements

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Evaluate your own understanding and skill level
  • Assess personal progress and contributions to your team and generate a plan to change your behavior as needed
Science and Society

Demonstrate the ability to critically analyze ethical issues in the conduct of science

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Identify and evaluate ethical considerations (e.g., use of animal or human subjects, conflicts of interest, confirmation bias) in a given research study
  • Critique how ethical controversies in biological research have been and can continue to be addressed by the scientific community

Consider the potential impacts of outside influences (historical, cultural, political, technological) on how science is practiced

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Describe examples of how scientists’ backgrounds and biases can influence science and how science is enhanced through diversity
  • Identify and describe how systemic factors (e.g., socioeconomic, political) affect how and by whom science is conducted

Apply scientific reasoning in daily life and recognize the impacts of science on a local and global scale

Sample Learning Objectives
  • Apply evidence-based reasoning and biological knowledge in daily life (e.g., consuming popular media, deciding how to vote)
  • Use examples to describe the relevance of science in everyday experiences
  • Identify and describe the broader societal impacts of biological research on different stakeholders
  • Describe the roles scientists have in facilitating public understanding of science