In recent years, a number of curriculum reform projects have championed the notion of students learning science in ways that move beyond hands-on work with authentic materials and methods, or developing a conceptual grasp of current theories (O'Neill and Polman, 2004; Sadler and Zeidler 2009). These reformers argued that students should come to an understanding of science through engagement activities in the discipline as well as taking a high degree of autonomy over investigations from start to the end. This tendency goes together with a foremost drift in science teaching increasingly calling for authentic scientific performances in the learning sciences (AAAS, 1993). According to the National Science Education Standards statement:
"Students should experience science in a format that engages them in the active construction of ideas and explanations" (NRC, 1996, p. 121).
It is recommended that science students should take part in activities that represent what scientists do while conducting an investigation, formulating a research question, raising a hypothesis, analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and writing research papers (Author and Colleague, 2008; NRC, 2011; Roth, 2004; Roth and Bowen, 1999). Involving students in the formulation of research questions and data analysis strategies results in better spontaneous use of empirical data collection and analysis strategies on a transfer task (O'Neill and Polman 2004).
One of the major concerns related to this course of action is getting undergraduate and graduate students involved with reading, comprehending, analyzing, and criticizing scientific texts – skills which can be classified as types of scientific literacy (McNamara and O’Reilly 2009; Norris and Phillips, 2012). In order to promote the implementation of scientific literacy in higher education, several studies have focused on students' learning outcomes through reading research papers and criticizing scientific texts (Almedia and Liotta, 2005, Ghent, 2010, Norris, Phillips and Korpan, 2003). Other studies were concerned with students' attitudes towards learning from research papers (Gardner, Jones, Taylor, Forrester and Robertson, 2010).
Scientific literacy is characterized by the ability to coherently read and write scientific text in a meaningful context (Bybee, 1997; Shamos, 1995). Bybee (1997) proposed that scientific literacy should be set as a general educational goal since it encompasses the knowledge, skills and values that ought to be common to all students as members of a society. Indeed, these days, promoting scientific literacy actually serves as one of the central aims of science education in terms of preparing students for life and citizenship, complex reasoning and reflective practices, and robust understanding of the nature of science (Sadler and Zeidler, 2009). Scientific literacy is important in order to comprehend the complexity of content, context, and method in understanding current problems (Gray, Camino, Barbiero and Gray, 2006).
In this study, we focus on fostering scientific literacy in two hybrid courses, in which the participants were advanced undergraduate and graduate biomedical engineering students. These two courses combine face-to-face lectures with asynchronous online learning activities, such as online forum discussions based on reading research articles. Such a combination of face-to-face teaching and online instruction in higher education seem also to be effective in promoting a learner-centered approach as well as active learning (Colleagues and Author, 2009; Hmelo-Silver and Erkens, 2006). In order to shed some light on the process of fostering scientific literacy in those bioengineering hybrid courses, we chose to trace three scientific literacy skills: question posing, identifying the canonical research article structure, and suggesting subsequent experiment design.