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VOL. 20, NO. 1. PP. 47-54 11983)


Teacher Education, University of Wisconsin, iMadison, Wisconsin 53 706

Abstract During the past twenty years, research, curriculum development, and instruction in science education have been influenced by Gagnes conception of science processes. This article reports an investigation of the epistomologic foundations of this conception. The results indicate that a commitment to inductive empiricism pervades the presently held view of science processes. A major tenet of this commitment is that conceptual knowledge results from the application of science processes in understanding natural phenomena and solving problems. Criticism of the commitment in light of recent developments in the philosophy of science reveals that there is limited philosophical support for this view. The implication is that if science educators continue to use the presently held view of science processes, the conception needs to be reformulated. Otherwise, there is a clear danger that students will be presented an inaccurate and inadequate view of science processes. The alternative is to view the exact nature of science processes as being dependent upon the conceptual knowledge that is used to understand a particular phenomena or problem. Since the mid-l800s, science educators have argued that the processes of science should be taught as a part of school curriculum. In England, Thomas H. Huxley, Joseph D. Hooker, and John S.HensIow adopted the position that the unique characteristic of science as a branch of learning was the method by which knowledge was acquired [and that] the inductive aspects of scientific activity, rather than the conclusions, were of most significance from an educational point of view. Science was [ t o be] studied in the schools not for its informational benefits but because it trained the power of observation and reasoning. [Layton, 1973, p. 1721 Approximately 100 years later, Robert G a p e (1965) presented a similar position to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The content of these papers has had a substantial influence on curriculum, instruction, and research in science education since that presentation. Because of this influence, an examination of the epistemologic roots of this process view of science is needed to determine if it represents science as presently described by philosophers of science. If t h s process view of science is adequate, its use in guiding science education is warranted. If not, an alternative must be developed. This article includes an overview of Gagnes position, a description of the underlying episteepistemologic foundations of that position, and an examination of those foundations in light of recent developments in the philosophy of science. This examination reveals that the present
@ 1983 by the National Association for Research i n Science Teaching Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. CCC 0027-4~08/83/010047-08S01.S0



view of the science processes minimizes the critical role conceptual knowledge plays in science processes. For this reason, the present process view is inadequate and needs to be recast. Present Conception of Science as Process Although many science educators have written about science processes, the view established by C a g e has been the most influential. For that reason, the major tenets of Gages position will be the foci of this article. In order to understand what Gagne means by science processes. it is first necessary to understand how he views the nature of scientific enquiry. For Gagne. scientific enquiry is the terminal objective of science education. He describes enquiry as
a set of activities characterized by a problem-solving approach in which each newly encountered phenomena becomes a challenge for thinking. Such thinking begins with a

careful set of systematic observations, proceeds to design the measurements required, clearly distinguishes between what is observed and what is inferred, invents interpretations which are under ideal circumstances brilliant leaps, but always testable, and draws reasonable conclusions. [Gagne, 1963, p. 1451

In order to engage in this scientific method of enquiry, Gagne argues that students must be able to make inductive inferences and to judge when those inferences are valid. These capabilities are dependent upon students having learned a great deal of conceptual knowledge. including broad generalizable principles and the constituent concepts of those principles. For Gagne, knowing a principle (such as Newtons second law) implies being able to use it t o describe a wide variety of situations in which it can be tested. Knowledge of principles, in turn, depends upon knowledge of concepts. Knowing concepts implies being able to respond in consistent ways to classes of objects or situations such as those where the concept force might be involved ( G a g e ? 1970). For Gagne, the prerequisite knowledge of concepts and principles can be obtained only if the students have certain underlying capabilities-the science processes-which are needed to practice and understand science. The processes (stated from simple to complex) are observing, classifying, describing, communicating, measuring, recognizing and using spatial relations; drawing conclusions; malung operational definitions; formulating hypotheses: controlling variables: interpreting data; and experimenting. The processes are hierarchically organized with the ability t o use each upper level process dependent on the abdity to use the simpler underlying process. Observation is considered to be the fundamental skill by virtue of its position at the foundation of the herarchy of skds needed to discover the broad knowledge required to conduct enquiry. It is described as the process of observing llkenesses and differences in single objects that vary in their physical characteristics as detactable by any of the senses (Gagne, 1965, p. 3). The other major features of the processes are: (1) Each process is a specific intellectual skdl used by all scientists and applicable to understand any phenomena. ( 2 ) Each process is an identifiable behavior of scientists that can be learned by students. (3) The processes are generalizable (transferable) across content domains and contributes t o rationale thinking in everyday affairs. In summary, Gagne views the science processes as the foundation for scientific enquiry. They are the generalizable intellectual skills needed to learn the concepts and broad principles used in making valid inductive inferences.



Philosophical Basis of Gagnes Science Processes The philosophcal premise upon which Gagnes views of science processes is based is that knowledge develops inductively from sensory experience. There are two parts to this premiseone related t o empiricsim. the other to induction.

The empiricist claim is that individuals attain meaningful knowledge only from experience with the physical environment. The writings of Hume best describe this view. The major tenets s phdosophy are the cornerstones of the positivist and logical empiricist schools of phdoof h sophical thought. In An Enquily Concerning Humnn Understanding (1974), Hume proposed that all the perceptions of the mind could be divided into two classes called impressions and ideas: By the term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the conscious, when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned. [p. 3 17 1 For Hume, then, impressions are the direct sensations received by the senses and are the basis of all knowledge. Simple ideas are the images of these sensations that remain after an impression has occurred. The mind can remember and combine simple ideas into more complex ideas. No simple ideas, however, can be created without a corresponding sensory experience. The range of ideas is thus limited to the impressions that have been experienced. Hume believed the impressions and ideas to be the components of experience. They are not, however, the same as knowledge. Terms (or what are now commonly called concepts) are the fundamental units from which propositions or subsequent knowledge statements are constructed. A term is a symbol that represents an idea. Each term is considered meaningful only if there is an idea that has resulted from a corresponding experience. In turn, propositions can be considered true and meaningful only if the impressions on which the terms are founded are actually observed. Hume (1974) further argued that all knowledge, the product of our thought, was really confined within very narrow limits. and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded use by the senses and experiences (p. 3 17). Gagnes view of science is consistent with this early empiricist view that knowledge is inferred from experience. This is evident in his description of observation as the fundamental skdl of detecting the characteristics of objects via the use of the sense. The fact that he places observation at the foundation of the learning of science concepts from which broad principles are formed is further indication of the empiricist nature of h s position. G a p e (1970) indicates that learning science concepts must proceed from discrimination of the sensible characteristics of objects and events t o the formation of concepts. He argues that the physical characteristics of objects need t o be observed and discriminated with systematic thoroughness using all the externally oriented senses, and that all the differential attributes of objects previously learned as disciminations need t o be used for establishmg concepts ( p . 258). For example, a c u d must learn to discriminate blue objects from red objects, rough from smooth objects, and heavy objects from light objects. Discriminations of objects on the basis of sensory impressions are the basis for forming concepts such as red, rough, and heavy that can be used independently of the actual objects. In addition, concepts have to be learned before learn-



ing the principles of w h c h they are fundamental components. T h s view of concept formation and the role of concepts in statements of principles is nearly identical to that of Hume.
bidu c tiun

The present view of science processes also includes a commitment t o induction. This commitment is evident in Gagnes (1973) description of scientific enquiry as a matter of solving problems by unrestrained inductive thinking (p. 153) and his description of how concepts are formed. The classical view of induction as the method of science was proposed by Francis Bacon in 1602, Robert Boyle in 1672, and Sir Isaac Newton in 1687 (Burtt, 1949). The basic tenets of induction are that science enquiry consists of four stages:

(1) observation and the collection of facts, ( 2 ) analysis and classification of those facts, (3) inductive derivation of generalizations from the facts, and (4) further testing of the generalizations.

In the first two steps, hypotheses as to how facts are related are not to be used because this would introduce bias and jeapordize scientific objectivity (Hempel, 1966). Humes previously described view of how ideas are formed is also inductive. He proposed that ideas (Gagnes concepts) are formed from individual sensory impressions that are slmrlar and contiguous in the experience of an individual (Hume, 1974). Different ideas imply that the sensory impressions from which they are inferred are different. There is a clear inductive inference from multiple sensory impressions to the generalized idea involved in thls view of concept formation. Gagnes view of science as inductive is consistent with these classical positions. Enquiry begins with observation and proceeds through the systematic organization of data, the inductive formation of inferences, and the testing of those inferences. Such enquiry is based upon concepts inductively inferred from discrete sensory impressions that are similar and contiguous ( G a p e , 1970).
Criticisms of Induction and Empiricism
Recent philosophers of science have been critical of the view that scientific enquiry is inductive and that knowledge is obtained only from direct sensory experience.

Criticism of Inductiun
Criticisms of induction as the way in which science enquiry proceeds have been presented by Hempel (196.5, 1966) who argues that the first three steps of inductive enquiry are untenable. The first inductive step is that all facts should be collected without the use of a priun hypotheses lest the objectivity of science be threatened. Hempel shows that scientific investigation beginning t h s way could never proceed beyond the first step because the collection of facts would never end. Without hypotheses, there would be no basis for determining when sufficient facts for an inductive inference had been collected. More specifically, one could not determine if all facts related to the occurrence of an observed event had been collected or if more facts from future occurrences might be needed. Even if only relevant facts were needed,



there would be no standard for establishing what was relevant without admitting that a hypothesis or some other type of prior expectation had been guiding the observations. The second step in the inductivist program is the organization and classification of facts. The problems at tkts point are similar to those of judging what facts are relevant. There are an infinite number of ways in whlch a given set of facts can be organized and classified. To understand a particular phenomena, organizations may be useful, but others may be nonsensical. Useful and meaningful organizations of facts can occur only in the context of a particular conceptual scheme. Each possible organization of facts presuppose the existence of certain conceptual knowledge. It is difficult to see how even the most rudimentary classifications could be made in a discipline unless various concepts had been assumed. The thud and most important inductivist step is to formulate new general principles from observed facts. Hempel indicates that in formal logical terms, a set of mechanicaily applicable rules of inductive would be required for this process. The inductive rules would be in effect the canons of scientific discovery. However, no such set of inductive rules is available. There is no known logical procedure for inductively formulating a new general statement from sets of antecedently collected separate observations. In Hempels (1966) words, The transition from data to theory requires creative imagination. Scientific hypotheses and theories are not derived from observed facts, but are invented in order t o account for them (p. 15).

Criticisms of Empiricism
The empiricist premise that knowledge is derived from sensory experience has been criticized by modern philosophers of science (Hanson, 1958, 1971; Kuhn, 1970: Toulrnin, 1961, 1972; Brown, 1977). First, they assert that perceptions are modified by conceptual knowledge and not merely serving as data from which knowledge is constructed. The conceptual knowledge held by a scientist is a determinant of what is observed. Significant perception occurs when we gain information from what we see (Brown, 1977). We gain information when an object is seen as (Kuhn,1970) something in particular or when we see that a particular event has occurred. The modern philosopher of science would say that a geologist viewing a t h section of a rock under a microscope may see sedimentary particles that are beginning t o undergo metamorphsm. T h s observation would be significant in understanding the rock sample from which the slide was taken. A novice, or even a scientist from another discipline, however. would not be likely to make such an observation. At an even more fundamental level, what the novice observes would at best be a configuration of colors, shapes. and sizes. In short, the observations of the geologist would be meaningful, but as long as observations remain on a purely phenomenal level, they do not become
a part of our knowledge and the very possibility of their becoming relevant to our knowledge depends on their already being related to some body of information. . . It is

in terms of this information that he (the observer) attempts to identify the streaks and patches he observes and eventually integrate them into what he knows. [Brown, 1977, P. 871

This is in contrast to the empiricist position that the reception of the light emanating from the tube of the microscope results in knowledge. From the perspective of the more recent philosophy, it is difficult t o understand what this knowledge might be. A second criticism is related to the selection of perceptions. According to the empiricists. sensory impressions are the foundation of knowledge. Each impression is discrete, independent



of other impressions, and of equal value in generating knowledge. There is no knowledge prior to impressions. Tlus results in the position that there is no basis for selecting one impression over another from a particular experience. R u s is clearly inconsistent with how individuals interact with their environments. Only a few meaningful perceptions of the myriad of impressions that impinge upon an individual each day are noticed. Many are not selected and do not become even a momentary part of a persons knowledge. The only way such selection can occur is on the basis of previously established knowledge. The point is related t o an important feature of science enquiry-the perception of an event that is anomalous. An event can only be anomalous if it is inconsistent with what is expected in light of existing knowledge. Again, observation is dependent upon prior knowledge. One final point should be noted. Brown (1977) indicates that the recent philosophers have not rejected sensory data as irrelevant to science enquiry. T h s position would destroy the fundamental principle that science is related to the real world. Their position is rather that observations result that both our existing knowledge and sensory impressions. Knowledge guides what observations will result, but the observations WLU be limited by the nature of sensory impressions.

The view of science processes espoused by Gagne and many science educators includes an extensive commitment t o empiricism and induction. Thls commitment has influenced our view of what knowledge should be taught. how objectives should be formulated. how instruction should be sequenced, and how it should be carried out. The influence has been particularly evident in elementary school, middle school, and introductory physical and life science high school courses. The commonly held view is that students should be taught t o enquire, in the sense of following the inductive method of problem solving. The teaching of concepts and principles should be preceded by teaching the capabilities of using science processes. Observation should be the first process taught, serving as a basis for the more complex processes such as classifying, describing, measuring, controlling variables. and experimenting. Teachng processes before content is predicted upon the assertion that conceptual knowledge develops directly from sensory experience. The processes are claimed t o be especially important because they are generalizable intellectual slulls that are the same across disciplines and applicable to solving many problems. With respect to instruction, this view holds that elementary school students should be provided the opportunity to learn the science processes while they are engaged in laboratory activities. They should have the opportunity to learn and practice the processes while in physical contact with a wide range of objects and events. Instruction of conceptual knowledge should emphasize discovery-the arrangement of the learning conditions so that students infer concepts and principles from interaction with their environments. Finally, when learning the inductive method of problem solving, students should be provided the opportunity to actually enquire. When this position is subjected to phdosophical criticism, it is apparent that two of its major tenets are unsupported. First, enquiry viewed as an inductive process is not tenable because there is no frame of reference for judging what facts should be collected or how they should be organized. In addition, there is no logical way to derive inductively new general ststements from specific sets of facts. Second. the idea that all meaningful information or knowledge is derived directly from experience is also untenable. Our perceptions are in large part determined and selected according to the Q p i o n knowledge we possess about the nature of



objects and events. The meaning of individual concepts is dependent upon the network of meanings with which they are associated. This is especially evident in the case of theoretical concepts that by definition have no directly observable referents. In light of these criticisms. the epistemologic foundation of the inductive empiricist view crumbles. It is important that science educators take note of the inherent problems. If we do not, it is likely that the curricula we develop wdl be based on erroneous or simplistic views of what scientists do. We may teach a view of science enquiry that is incorrect and. in the process. misrepresent the nature of science knowledge. For example. we may continue to teach that the methods and processes used by scientists in different disciplines are the same. If. as recent philosophers have suggested, processes as fundamental as observation are dependent upon the conceptual knowledge of the observer and if conceptual knowledge varies from discipline to discipline, the methods and processes of those disciplines must be different. Similarly, if we fail to recast our view of the nature of science, and continue to overemphasize a discovery approach to instruction, we are likely t o continue to expect that students will inductively formulate concepts and generalizations. It is unlikely that a chdd would ever inductively discover the full meaning of science concepts-even a concept as fundamental as mass. Such terms have rich meanings in the context of the sciences and unless we intend for our students to understand them within the lirmts of their sensory impressions. instruction based on discovery will not be successful.

It is beyond the scope of this article to describe entirely the major tenets of an alternative view of science enquiry and science processes. However, two features can be noted. Kuhn (1970), Touhnin, (1972), Brown (1977), and Papineau (1979) have argued that science proceeds in light of available conceptual knowledge. The conceptual knowledge of researchers determines what constitutes a problem for a discipline. what hypotheses w i l l be entertained, what experiments wdl be conducted. what data will be sought, how observations wdl be organized and classified, and, t o a great extent, what perceptions the observer wdl select as reievant facts. This view of science as conceptually driven is consistent with the logical empiricist view of science as hypothetical deductive rather than inductive. Hempel (1966) argues that science is most rational as a deductive process of .confirmation. The core of t h s view is that scientists formulate tentative hypotheses, based on their conceptual knowledge, early in an investigation. i l l be conducted. I t The hypotheses determined what data wdl be collected and how research w is thus the foundation for the ideal deductive argument (a modus tolens argument) and an ideal explanation (a deductive nomological explanation). Conceptual knowledge is clearly essential in guiding all scientific enquiry.. There are several implications for science education if science is viewed in this alternative light. First, science educators must recognize that conceptual knowledge drives the science processes and does not result from them. Second, the science processes are likely to be context bound. The processes will be different from discipline to discipline and different even within a discipline when different conceptual aspects of the discipline are in use. In short. it is unlikely that there will be content-free intellectual skills that are generalizable across multiple enquiries. Third, if science educators are to understand better the nature of science processes. the reiationshtps between content and process must be better understood. Techniques that represent how scientists work and that are specific, detailed. and take into account the role that conceptual knowledge plays in guiding the processes need to be developed. Without such representations. science educators run the risk of presenting the process aspect of science inaccurately to our students.



Once such models are constructed, they can be used as bases for developing curricula in particular content domains and instructional techniques that are appropriate for teachmg the processes under consideration. Without such models, we run the risk of inaccurately representing to our students the process aspect of scientific enquiry. More importantly, if we continue to view processes as separate from content, we run the risk of placing students in a posirion where it is difficult or impossible for them t o learn what we expect them to learn. There is little that would more negatively influence a students view of science as comprehensible, interesting, and enrichmg than facing continuous failure because of curriculum and instruction that is based on an inadequate epistemologic foundation. References Brown, H. I. Perception, theory and commiment: The new philosophy ofscience. Chicago: University of Chtcago Press, 1977. Burtt, E. A. The metaphysical foundations of modern physical science. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1949. Gagne, R. M. The learning requirements for enquiry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 1963, 1(2), 144-153. Gagne, R. M. The psychological basis of science-A process approach. U S miscellaneous publication, 1965,65-68. Gagne, R. M. The conditions oflearning (2nd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970. Hanson, N. R. Patterns of discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958. Hanson, N. R. Observation and explanation. New York: Harper and Row, 1971. Hempel, C. G. Aspects of scientific explanation and other essays in tile philosophy of science. New York: The Free Press, 1965. Hempel, C . G. Philosophy of natural science. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966. Hume, D. An enquiry concerning human understanding. In Anchor Books (Eds.), TIze empiricists. New York: Anchor Books, 1974. Kuhn, T. S. The structure of scientific ratolurions (2nd ed.). Chcago: Chicago Uniyersity Press, 1970. Layton, D. Science for the people. New York: Science History Publications, 1973. Papineau, D. Theory and meaning. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1979. Toulmin, S. Foresight and understanding. New York: Harper and Row, 196 1 . Toulmin, S. Human understanding. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1977,. Manuscript accepted April 21, 1982