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The novice-expert continuum in astronomy knowledge

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  • Astronomy
  • Special Aspects Of Education
  • Linguistics


The nature of expertise in astronomy was investigated across a broad spectrum of ages and experience in China and New Zealand. Five hypotheses (capable of quantification and statistical analysis) were used to probe types of expertise identified by previous researchers: (a) domain-specific knowledge-skill in the use of scientific vocabulary and language and recognising relationships between concepts in linguistic and schematic forms; (b) higher-order theory in terms of conceptual structure and enriched scientific knowledge and reasoning; with an expectation of cultural similarity. There were 993 participants in all, age 3–80 years, including 68 junior school pupils; 68 pre-school pupils; 112 middle-school students; 109 high-school students; 79 physics undergraduates; 60 parents; 136 pre-service primary teachers; 131 pre-service secondary teachers; 72 primary teachers; 78 secondary teachers; 50 amateur astronomers and astronomy educators; and 30 astronomers and physicists; with approximately equal numbers of each group in both cultures; and of boys and girls in the case of children. For them, the methodology utilised Piagetian interviews with three media (verbal language, drawing, play-dough modelling), and for adults a questionnaire inviting responses in writing and drawing was used. The data from each group were categorised into ordinal scales and then analysed by means of Kolmogorov–Smirnov two-sample tests. The findings supported the hypotheses with evidence of all forms of expertise increasing with experience in both cultures (α level 0.05). The relative gains, overlaps and deficits in expertise across the novice-expert continuum are explored in detail.

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