U of A launches free online course on science literacy

New course teaches learners how to think critically about science—and how to tell the difference between sound scientific studies and pseudoscience.

We are often told not to believe everything we read online or see on TV, but how do we tell the difference between sensationalized statistics and a real scientific study? A new online course in science literacy launched this week by the University of Alberta is ready to help learners spot sound science.

"The purpose of this course is to teach people about the process of science and how it is used to acquire knowledge," said course host Claire Scavuzzo, a researcher in the Department of Psychology. "By the end of the course, learners will be able to understand and use scientific evidence to challenge claims based on misinformation, and engage the process of science to ask questions to build their knowledge."

Guest lecturers

In the U of A's new online course on science literacy, you'll hear from:

  • Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and star of Netflix's A User's Guide to Cheating Death, on pseudoscience
  • Torah Kachur, scientist and CBC journalist, on science communication (and miscommunication)
  • Christian Nelson, citizen scientist and creator of Edmonton Weather Nerdery, on experimental design
  • Métis Elder Elmer Ghostkeeper and Cree Elder Rose Wabasca, on the holistic nature of Indigenous wisdom and how it can work with the scientific process
  • David Rast, scientist and psychology expert, on uncertainty and decision-making

The course covers a variety of topics, Scavuzzo explained, and students will have the opportunity to learn how holistic wisdom is gained and practised by Canadian First Nations, Indigenous, and Métis peoples, compared with the westernized process of science. They will also learn how to think critically about scientific claims from a variety of sources, and how to differentiate science from pseudoscience.

"With the uncertainty that comes with the current global COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing a general public distrust in science-ironically because of its self-correcting process," said Scavuzzo.

"For example, the World Health Organization and provincial and federal health leaders changing their advisory on face masks was due to new evidence that showed masks help reduce the spread of COVID-19. If we are scientifically literate-and expect our health and government officials to be-we should expect updates and even changes to COVID-19 policies based on new evidence as it becomes available. This self-correction reflects the new evidence we collect and new knowledge we have gained."

The online course has no prerequisites, features a variety of guest lecturers and can be completed at the learner's own pace-roughly five weeks with five to seven hours per week of study. The five modules of the course are presented with practice quizzes, reflective quizzes and interactive learning objects that are all available for free.

"Students can expect to finish this course with well-polished critical thinking skills. Rather than 'science knowledge,' students will build the skill of thinking scientifically so they are ready to engage in the process of science," said Scavuzzo.

"It may expose some of your biases and it may also help you recognize the value of challenging your biases by being skeptical, asking questions, and evaluating evidence. It will change the way you interact with and absorb content on social media. It will make you realize that these skills can-and should-be used every day."