Annie Champagne Queloz, PhD. ETH Zürich


Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’

Debunking Nature of Science (Part 1)

Capture d’écran 2017-02-09 à 11.14.55

Aura lieu le mardi 2 mai, à 12:15, un séminaire qui a pour titre : “The need of refinement of the features of the Nature of Science sometimes stated to be the “consensus view” in science education discourse”. Ce séminaire sera présenté par le Professeur Igal Galili, de la Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Le rendez-vous a lieu à IUEF du Pavillon Mail, à Genève, dans la en salle PM10.

On Tuesday, May 2 at 12:15, the seminar titled: “The need of refinement of the features of the Nature of Science sometimes stated to be the “consensus view” in science education discourse”  is presented by Professor Igal Galili, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The seminar takes place at IUEF of the Pavillon Mail, in Geneva, in the room PM10.

Voici le résumé de la présentation/here is the abstract of the presentation:

Abstract. Until recently, features of nature of science (NOS) were often not addressed in science curriculum at all or addressed superficially, drawing on an oversimplified perception of philosophy of science.  Within the attempt to improve the situation, a specific discourse has been developed by researchers in science education.  Since describing the nature of science involves the knowledge of history and philosophy of science, the discourse on NOS in education is not immune to confusion and speculative statements that require clarification to the wide population of students and practitioners. Such are, for instance, the popular claim of science to be “subjective” or rejecting the need of history of science for containing obsolete knowledge. We have performed several studies, and participated in HIPST European international project to provide a more comprehensive account for the subject.  Within this approach, we have developed so called discipline-culture framework to represent scientific knowledge seeking cultural content knowledge (CCK)* as well as addressing epistemological aspects of science.  The two require different accounts for presenting different types of culture – the culture of rules (the content knowledge) and the culture of texts (the scientific method) (**).  In my talk, I will describe our understanding of the NOS features as mentioned in literature (***) and their correspondent refinement.  We argue for addressing the features of science in the span of variation objective-subjective, tentative-certain, and so on depending on the context.

(*) Galili, I. (2012). Cultural Content Knowledge – The Case of Physics Education. International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, 20(2), 1-13.  Galili, I. (2014). Teaching Optics: A Historico-Philosophical Perspective. In M. R. Matthews (ed.).  International Handbook of Research in History and Philosophy for Science and Mathematics Education, pp. 97-128, Springer.

(**) Lotman, Yu. (2010). The problem of learning culture as a typological characteristic. In What people learn. Collection of papers and notes (pp. 18-32). Moscow: Rudomino.

(***) Lederman, N., Abd-el-Khalick, F., Bell, R.L. & Schwartz, R.S. (2002). Views of Nature of Science Questionnaire: Toward Valid and Meaningful Assessment of Learners’ Conceptions of Nature of Science.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(6), 497–521.


Pour plus d’information sur les projets du Professeur Galili, cliquer ici.


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At ETH Zürich, teaching biology matters!

Recently, the Department of Biology at ETH Zürich, in Switzerland, has introduced new forms of teaching such flipped classroom. It aims to encourage students to become more involved in their learning (see the article here).


“Deblocking” teaching in well-established universities!

Traditional educational practices 

It is often difficult to initiate educational reforms in prestigious or top-ranked universities (this idea of top-ranked universities is quite debatable… Article 1. Article 2. Article 3). It requires commitment and some humility to recognize the limits of a system and the need to change it. Usually, traditional educational practices are strongly anchored into well-establish universities. Traditional teaching refers to a lecturer who is the main actor involved into the transfer of knowledge. In this context, students have a passive role by absorbing knowledge. Common assessments are usually constructed to measure abilities of students to memorize large amount of knowledge and to distinguish/describe “the right” and the “false” statements. The principal exchange between the lecturer and the students is normally during informal oral questions sessions during or at the end of the lecture. Most of the time, only few students are willing to share their questioning or comments. In addition, the room to discuss in class is often restricted, dominated by the time requires to teach the content.

At ETH Zürich, some professors were unsatisfied with such traditional approach. They have realized that, even if students are learning something, they don’t demonstrate any ability to discuss or to develop critical thinking. Such competencies are fundamental to develop a better scientific literacy. In addition, many students interpret wrongly what we tend to teach them by demonstrating important misconceptions (read here our article about this subject). Those misconceptions are often immutable when not addressed and not revealed by common assessments.

Flipped Classroom

A flipped classroom consists for students to get acquainted with the subject of the lecture before to come in class through self-study using interactive learning exercises with texts and videos available via a learning platform. Then, students are coming in class and the lecturer introduces briefly the subject. After this short introduction, students are working in small teams to do some learning activities and discuss between them, with the lecturer and the teaching assistants. Developing such educational approach takes considerably a lot of time to prepare and update the material and a workforce to assist students in large-enrolled groups during discussion sessions.

A survey done at the end of every semester reveals that ETHZ students are highly happy with this approach. In addition, according to the lecturers, the teaching assistant and the students, the discussions immediately reveal some weak understanding, offering the possibility of the lecturer to readjust his teaching quickly. Consequently, students develop a better conceptual understanding.

Center for Active Learning (CAL)

The Department of Biology has founded the Center for Active Learning (CAL). The team is offering counselling and development services for the department’s lecturers. They collaborate with the department of Educational Development and Technology at ETH Zürich to improve the learning platform.

Educational Tasks of Universities

Prestigious or top-ranked universities should remain at the forefront of the key improvements in education, not only in research activities. The main role of universities is the formation of future professionals or researchers having knowledge, of course, but also demonstrating conceptual understanding and critical thinking. Traditional education doesn’t accord to measure such competencies. Obviously, this suggests that authorities must therefore show a certain open mind for changes. Challenging a well-establish system demands engagements, the conviction that changes are needed, but, principally, some humbleness to recognize that we can do better.

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Reforms in education: The content and the context

Reform_smallIn February 2017, I’m giving a talk about my ideas on reforming biology education in Switzerland. This theme has taken origin in my doctorate thesis (available here). I have written, in an unpretentious way, that my work could be considered as a first step to reform biology curriculum. Honestly, I have probably underestimated the value of this quote, and thus, now, I have to assume it! Consequently, I’m invited to explain such ideas during the “Praktikumslehrerfortbildung”, a workshop organized every two years for Swiss teachers from different disciplines.

Reforming the content

In the first part of my talk, I will show some of the most important results of my doctorate project. For me, while the results I have collected give important insights about misconceptions in biology held by Swiss students, my contribution is only the first step in the initiation of a reform. Indeed, I consider my research project as an educational needs assessment, i.e. the identification of a problematic situation. Kaufman et al. (2002), specialists in educational curricula design, define “need” as a gap between observable and desired results. During my studies, I have diagnosed some problematic understanding of particular biology concepts by using the Biological Concepts Instrument (BCI), a multiple-choice questionnaire built on students’ thinking (click here for more information). We were interested in how students can interpret the content (the scientific knowledge) that we tend to teach them. We know that students have persistent “Carebears” thinking on how biological processes work that need to be explicitly addressed during the course of instruction.

Many students have a “Carebears” thinking on how biological processes work.

Otherwise some of those ideas can harm to construct a solid network of knowledge and to develop an authentic conceptual understanding (see this previous post). In parallel, many of undergraduates met have not demonstrated an interdisciplinary perspective of thinking, i.e. they had some difficulties to connect different disciplinary knowledge together. The project revealed some problematic understanding that should be addressed in the course of instruction, requiring some changes or adaptation to the current science curriculum at the secondary and university level. However, are the results sufficient to catalyze a national educational reform in Switzerland?

Reforming the context

Then, here come what I consider the second step. Educational reforms initiated to address some socio-scientific issues can make science education more relevant for the students (see that reference for the meaning of “relevance”, Stuckey et al. 2013). In sociology of education, briefly, some are saying that education can reform the society (for example, by promoting better health and civic engagement) (Sadler 2011). In contrast, others are saying that the society is responsible for reforming education by defining professional and economic needs (see Meyer (1977) for an interesting review about the effects of education as an institution). Despite this contradiction, I was curious to investigate some socio-scientific issues, i.e. the context, that could be improved by reforming biology curriculum in Switzerland.

Despite important progress since the last 30 years by deploying important campaign again tobacco addiction, approximately 37% of the people between 20 and 34 years old are smoking in Switzerland (here is the reference, Addiction Suisse), positioning the country on the 25th rank, out of possible 182 (the source is here). Another example is the constant increase of the numbers of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in many occidental countries (WHO, 2016), including Switzerland (Statistiques, Office fédéral de la santé publique). Those public health issues could be used to develop a phenomenon-based learning approach, as Finland have initiated recently (here in an interesting article about Finnish educational reform). Many science topics such immunology, microbiology, cancer development, genetics (mutations), evolution (mutations), molecular biology (movements and structures of molecules), etc. could be taught though those socio-scientific issues as contexts in which student’s knowledge can be applied. To quote Sadler (2011, p.4): “If our goal is to help students become better able to contribute to debates and decisions about important societal issues with links to science and technology, then we need to create learning contexts such that learners actually confront some of these issues and gain experiences negotiating their inherent complexities”. By the existence of such socio-scientific issues and the low interests of its, I think that we failed in our way to teach biology (or science in general) in promoting a better science culture in earlier stages of education (indeed, usually such investigations are showing that higher level of education reduces the incidence of tobacco addiction or infectious sexual diseases).

Of course, it is hard to measure how the socio-scientific issues integrated in science curricula and reforms in education will necessarily lead to more informed citizens and better decision makers. The society will evaluate this citizenship competency (a question that could be raised: who is the society…?!). Reforming the content should be constantly done with respect to the development of scientific innovations and progress in science education. Reforming the context by catalyzing some changes in education system is also pertinent when some socio-scientific issues are observed in society. Such contexts make learning science relevant to students.


Champagne Queloz, A. et al., 2016. Debunking Key and Lock Biology: Exploring the prevalence and persistence of students’ misconceptions on the nature and flexibility of molecular interactions. Matters Select, pp.1–7.

Kaufman, R., Watkins, R. & Guerra, I., 2002. Getting Valid and Useful Educational Results and Payoffs: We Are What We Say, Do, and Deliver. International Journal of Educational Reform, 11(1), pp.77–92.

Meyer, J.W., 1977. The Effects of Education as an Institution. American Journal of Sociology, 83(1), pp.55–77.

Sadler, T.D., 2011. Socio-scientific Issues in the Classroom T. D. Sadler, ed., Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media.

Stuckey, M. et al., 2013. The meaning of “relevance” in science education and its implications for the science curriculum. Studies in Science Education, 49(1), pp.1–34.

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Switzerland has a great diversity in associations or research groups promoting and improving education of science


Didactics of sciences in Switzerland

Until recently, I followed a doctoral study path conducting me in different regions of Switzerland to get insights into the misconceptions in biology held by Swiss students (Champagne Queloz et al. submitted manuscript; Champagne Queloz et al. 2016). In parallel, I have discovered many organizations involved in educational research contributing to promote sciences teaching and learning.  I have compiled some groups of research or associations promoting STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in Switzerland. Don’t hesitate to suggest others that are missing in this list.

  1. Académie suisse des sciences naturelles. This academy is financing some projects related to scientific education. The Network for Transdisciplinary Research (td-net) is one of them. http://www.sciencesnaturelles.ch/topics/co-producing_knowledge
  2. Académies suisses des sciences. The Swiss scientific academies are committed in promoting dialogue between scientific researchers and citizens and offering advice services to politicians in all scientific issues affecting society. http://www.academies-suisses.ch/fr/index/Aktuell/News.html
  3. Center for Active Learning. ETH Zürich. Prof. Ernst Hafen and his group are developing many online tools and different learning approaches for ETH biology lectures. http://www.cal.biol.ethz.ch.
  4. Department Geistes-, Sozial-, und Staatswissenschaften. Professur für Lehr- and Lernforschung. ETH. Zürich. Professor Elsbeth Stern and her colleagues are working on different project related to MINT at different level of education. http://www.ifvll.ethz.ch
  5. Educa MINT. Plateform offering different tools for people involved in teaching sciences. http://mint.educa.ch/fr/sommes-4
  6. Edu ETH. ETH Zürich. This group, supervised by Peter Greutmann and Prof. Elsbeth Stern, aims to optimize scientific research knowledge on education and practical contexts of teaching and learning. http://www.ifvll.ethz.ch/weitere-projekte/educ-eth.html
  7. Institut Universitaire de Formation des Enseignants. Didactique de la Biologie. Université de Genève. This group is directed by Prof. Bruno J. Strasser. The team is active in many different research projects, for example, how manage the production of knowledge in life sciences and their consequences in teaching, how history of science can influence understanding of students or by publishing the blog, Bio-Tremplinshttps://www.unige.ch/iufe/recherches/groupes/didactiquebiologie/
  8. Lab2Rue. Université de Fribourg. This group of research is offering experimental protocols to initiate students (secondary 1 and 2) to different scientific projects. http://www.unifr.ch/biology/research/mullerwicky/outreach
  9. Laboratoire de Didactique et d’Epistemologie des Sciences. Université de Genève. The members of the LDES mainly focus their work on the development of educational tools. Interestingly, they suggest conferences adapted to specific public. http://www.unige.ch/fapse/ldes/unites-du-laboratoire-de-didactique-et-depistemologie-des-sciences-ldes/
  10. Lehrstuhl für Didaktik der Naturwissenschaften und der Nachhaltigkeit. Universität Zürich. The main subject of research of this group encompasses embodied cognition (influence of language in learning processes) and didactic reconstruction (a methodological framework for curriculum planning and for didactic teaching-learning). http://www.ife.uzh.ch/de/research/lehrstuhlniebert.html
  11. MINT Lernzentrum. ETH Zürich. Directed by the Dr. Ralph Schumacher and Prof. Andreas Vaterlaus, the MINT Lernzentrum group is working with the collaboration of high school teachers. They aim to develop teaching tools, which have been proved by cognitive psychology researches to be efficient. http://www.educ.ethz.ch/lernzentren/mint-lernzentrum.html
  12. Museo cantonale di storia naturale. Didattica. Canton of Tessino. The mission is to spread the current knowledge on life science and Earth. They are offering training for teachers in the awareness of science in a wider cultural context. http://www4.ti.ch/dt/da/mcsn/temi/mcsn/didattica/didattica-e-animazioni/
  13. Olympiade Suisse de Biologie/Schweizer Biologie Olympiade. This contest is for students at the Gymnasium (Maturité/Lycée) level. The SBO winners can participate to the International Biology Olympiad (here is more info about it). http://www.ibosuisse.ch/OSB/
  14. Schweizer Jugen Forscht/La Science appelle les jeunes. This foundation coordinates different events related to sciences. They organize a national contest in which students can develop a research project and exhibit their results to a jury. http://sjf.ch
  15. Société Suisse des Professeurs de Sciences Naturelles/Verein Schweizerischer Naturwissenschaftslehrerinnen und –lehrer (VSN). Cette société organise des formations de perfectionnement auprès des enseignants en sciences. Elle publie aussi des modules didactiques des disciplines. http://www.vsn.ch/index_fr.html
  16. SWiSE. Swiss Science Education. This association focus on the further development of science and technology in obligatory school and kindergarten level. http://swise.ch
  17. Swiss Science Education Association. This association aims to promote natural science teaching in Switzerland. The website is really complete, offering many useful links and an interesting newsletter. http://dinat.ch
  18. Swiss Universities. This institution is responsible to create common politics between the “hautes écoles” (“hautes écoles universitaires, spécialisées et pédagogiques).This institution is responsible to create common politics between the “hautes écoles” (“hautes écoles universitaires, spécialisées et pédagogiques). https://www.swissuniversities.ch/fr/
  19. Unité d’enseignement et de recherche Didactiques des mathématiques et des sciences de la nature. HEP Vaud. This group contributes to the formation of future teachers and conducts also to develop projects researches. It also offers some counsellor services. https://www.hepl.ch/cms/accueil/formation/unites-enseignement-et-recherche/did-mathematiques-sciences-nat.html
  20. Zentrum Naturwissenschafts und Technikdidaktik. Fachhohschule Nordwestschweiz. The center networks with teachers, students, parents, educators and researchers. They are promoting playing and experimenting learning activities from the kindergarten to gymnasium level. http://www.fhnw.ch/ph/zntd



Champagne Queloz, A. et al., 2016. Debunking Key and Lock Biology: Exploring the prevalence and persistence of students’ misconceptions on the nature and flexibility of molecular interactions. Matters Select, pp.1–7.

Champagne Queloz, A. et al., 2016. Diagnostic of students’ misconceptions using the Biological Concepts Instrument: A method for conducting an educational needs assessment. Submitted manuscript in PLoS ONE, pp.1–38.

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