REASON's search for scientific reasoning
by Elizabeth Willoughby

What constitutes scientific reasoning? How does it develop? How can it be used in different academic domains and professions? Scientific reasoning experts and PhDs from around the world searched for answers to such questions at the 1st Spring School of REASON, an international doctoral program at LMU.

Central to the projects of all REASON PhD students is being able to measure scientific reasoning. Thus, this was the theme for last month's REASON Spring School, where 45 PhD students from Asia, the US and Europe were invited to Munich for three days to share research, refine measuring methodologies, and participate in workshops offered by professors that are internationally renowned for their work on scientific reasoning and argumentation.

Andras Csanadi, a Hungarian PhD student in his second year at the REASON study program, found the event particularly valuable to his research, which is a study on how student teachers engage in scientific reasoning in their everyday practice, and how it can be fostered.

"We received a lot of feedback on our research at the conference, which definitely contributes to a better quality of our theses," he says. "An international environment also inspires one to think out of the box." As well, the event provided the opportunity for students to create new contacts, including with experts whose work they may have read but whom they'd never met before.

The graduate study program

REASON falls under the Munich Center of the Learning Sciences (MCLS) and is funded by the Elite Network of Bavaria. Under the direction of Prof. Frank Fischer and coordinator Dr. Marcus Bozer, in English language instruction, 12 professors from Munich's LMU, Technical University and Catholic University of Applied Sciences, who work in different areas of scientific reasoning, support 20 doctoral students via supervisory meetings, plenary discussions and presentations, and informal meetings to discuss things like defining scientific reasoning, its development and implementation. What role does emotion play? How do children process scientific evidence, and how do medical students compared to math students? How do search engines, social media, and other technologies change scientific reasoning and argumentation?

Besides understanding what makes specific domains different, the overarching aim is to find commonalities between them. If a teacher who is helping a student with learning difficulties doesn't use her psychology training, such as motivational theories and memory models, then the child's real problem will not be adequately addressed or resolved. But what if the teacher's education curricula had included more effective support for scientific reasoning?

Scientific reasoning could similarly be included in medical education curricula and other domains, which is why the PhD students researching different areas of scientific reasoning participate in common activities.

Says Andras, "Working in an interdisciplinary team helps to keep your mind open by taking you out of your specialization. What I also really like is that we are constantly developing not only our work but our way that we deal with problems and with each other."

Spring school success

REASON PhD student Maryam Alqassab from Bahrain, one of the organizers of the Spring School, says the interdisciplinary aspect and expert feedback of the study program is a PhD student's dream, but the Spring School was particularly rewarding.

"I wanted to be part of the organization committee because I felt it would be a great opportunity to cooperate with so many different people. We had to make sure PhD students from around the world would attend. We had to recruit acknowledged professors and experts in scientific reasoning. We had to collaborate with peers and professors to be sure that the conference would be a useful and rich learning experience for all participants, who were coming from many different fields but all sharing the same research interest."

"We met all our goals for the conference," says Andras, "and students found the feedback, workshops and keynote presentations very helpful. What really surprised me, though, was the number of common aspects that exist between the different topics and my own research. For me it was a great collaboration."

Originally published at insightLMU, April 2015

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