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Ruth Cronje's Research Projects

Research in Progress:

Toward a Conservation Community-based Definition of Scientific Literacy for Citizen Scientists

Although a common goal of citizen science projects in conservation biology is to improve the scientific literacy of participants, evaluation of this goal is hampered by the lack of a consensus about what a scientifically literate citizen conservation scientist must be able to understand and do. To enable program evaluation, the conservation biology community requires a context-specific definition of “scientific literacy” that can capture important citizen awareness, skills, and understanding vis a vis conservation research and policy.  This article reports the results of a survey of the Wisconsin citizen-based monitoring community, who were asked what elements of ecological theory, conservation policy, and scientific knowledge and the scientific process they believe it is important for citizen scientists to know. Their responses can begin a conversation within the conservation biology community regarding what citizens – both those who participate in citizen science projects and those who don’t – need to know about conservation science.

Devising and testing a context-sensitive instrument for assessing citizen scientific literacy

Ruth Cronje, Spencer Rohlinger, Alycia Crall, and Greg Newman

Improving scientific literacy is a main goal of many citizen science programs. Currently, efforts to design programs and experiences effective in improving scientific literacy are hampered by the lack of an environmentally focused, context-sensitive instrument to detect changes in the scientific literacy of citizen scientists. This project will refine an environmentally focused, context-sensitive instrument to assess scientific literacy. The sensitivity of this instrument will be tested by using it assess improvements in scientific literacy in citizens participating in citizen science programs in Wisconsin; our results will be compared to results obtained using the general, decontextualized scientific literacy instrument used by the National Science Foundation in their Science and Engineering Indicators survey.

Using the Science Writing Heuristic to Improve Student Writing in Biology

Ruth Cronje, Kelly Murray, Spencer Rohlinger, Todd Wellnitz

The Science Writing Heuristic (SWH) is a writing-to-learn initiative that has been demonstrated to improve student understanding of disciplinary science.  However, to date the ability of this pedagogical approach to improve student writing in their major discipline has not been tested.  This project will use the SWH approach to teach principles of ecology and evolution in biology to replicate investigations that have tested this technique to improve understanding of science; it will add a component to test whether the writing ability of freshman biology majors is improved. The SWH approach will be used with students in three sections of Biol 110; three other sections, taught by the same instructor, will be taught conventionally to serve as a control.  We will collect pre-post concept maps and an essay from students in both treatment and control groups to determine whether we see improvements in conceptual understanding of ecology/evolution (concept maps) and improvements in student ability to communicate their research (essays).

Recent Publications:

Re-visioning undergraduate nursing students as opinion leaders to diffuse EP in clinical settings

Ruth Cronje, Susan Moch

Rogers’s claims about the importance of social networks to the diffusion of innovations are reviewed in light of efforts to promote EBP among nursing students and practicing nurses. We argue that nursing educators can take more deliberate advantage of the essentially social nature of the diffusion process by devising opportunities for nursing students to form meaningful social interactions with practicing nurses. We recommend curricular reforms that re-envision nursing students as opinion leaders throughout the curriculum. Rogers’s theory predicts that such ongoing interactions between nursing students and practicing nurses will better integrate EBP among both populations.

Undergraduate Nursing EBP Education: Envisioning the Role of Students

Susan Moch, Ruth Cronje

Nursing educators have embraced the integration of EBP into the nursing education curriculum in numerous ways. As this review of the nursing pedagogy literature demonstrates, most of these approaches build upon long-standing commitments to helping students understand the scientific research process, think critically, and develop the information literacy skills that will enable them to find the evidence that can inform their practice. Many reports in the nursing pedagogy literature recount various strategies used to teach EBP to nursing students. Another category of nursing pedagogy articles discuss ways that EBP education can be suffused throughout the nursing school curriculum. Few educators, however, have envisioned students as having a role beyond that of the mere recipients of EBP education. Nonetheless, a small but growing number of nurse educators have begun to envision students as enablers of practice change in clinical settings. These innovators advocate a pedagogical paradigm that places students into socially meaningful partnerships with practicing nurses as a means to promote the uptake of EBP in clinical settings.

Empowering grassroots evidence-based practice: A curricular model to foster student-enabled practice change

Susan Moch, Ruth Cronje

This article presents evidence collected over the past 15 years that attests to the success of curricular innovations conducted to foster socially meaningful contact between nursing students and practicing nurses as a means to promote evidence-based practice (EBP). Action research data collected as these pedagogical strategies have evolved suggest that such student-staff partnerships offer promise not only to encourage commitment to EBP among nursing students but also to surmount most of the barriers that prevent the widespread diffusion of EBP among practicing nurses in clinical settings. Based upon our successful experiences with student-staff interactions, we propose a curricular model—the Student-Enabled Practice Change model–that suffuses the undergraduate nursing school curriculum with opportunities for nursing students to form meaningful partnerships with practicing nurses. The Student-Enabled Practice Change Curricular Model relocates the power to drive practice change to the grassroots level of students and practicing nurses.

Going Public with the scientific process.

Ruth Cronje

Science, 14 March 2008; 319: 1483-1484.

Is Pain Ever Normal?

R. Cronje, OD Williamson

Journal of Clinical Pain, 2006. Accepted for publication.
This article analyzes the language by which clinicians and pain experimenters taxonomize various pain experiences of patients. Most of these pain categories are defined in terms of a reference standard of “normal” pain; however, we argue that the difficulties intrinsic to measuring a subjective, interpretive experience like pain renders the determination of what would constitute “normal” pain problematic.

Evidence-based medicine: Recognizing and managing clinical uncertainty.

Ruth Cronje, JR Freeman, OD Williamson, CJ Gutsch

Laboratory Medicine. 2004;36(12):723-729.
Evidence-based medicine suffuses all aspects of health care, including the clinical laboratory. While it presents medical and laboratory clinicians with a number of significant challenges, it provides a method to support more effective management of the uncertainty that pervades medicine. The United States Institute of Medicine calls for the use of best-evidence, patient-centered care to be a central element of medical practice. This article discusses how laboratory clinicians can use evidence-based techniques to quantify, and thus manage, the uncertainty intrinsic to diagnostic decision-making.

Evidence-Based Medicine: Toward a New Definition of 'Rational' Medicine.

Ruth Cronje in collaboration with Amanda Fullan

Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine. 2003; 7(3):353-369.
Evidence-based medicine (EBM) promises to make the practice of medicine more fully 'rational,' thereby increasing medicine's reliability and improving patient health outcomes. However, intractable ethical and epistemic problems with applying a model of rationality that privileges quantifiable 'evidence' in medical practice--evidence often at odds with nonquantifiable patient experiences, values, and preferences--have prompted some within the medical community to condemn EBM. This paper analyses textual evidence from the medical literature as the medical community's effort to rhetorically renegotiate a new model of rationality, one which both preserves rationality's promise to protect medical decision making from the dogmatic, subjective, and arbitrary and permits nonquantifiable patient experiences, values, and preferences to play a legitimate role in rational diagnostic and therapeutic decision making.

The potential for rationality: Rhetoric as communicative action.

Ruth Cronje

Goodnight GT, ed. Arguing Communication and Culture. Washington, DC: National Communication Association. 2002; 267-273.
This paper addresses the question of whether and how rhetoric functions in rational discourse. Specifically, it considers Jürgen Habermas’s definition of rhetoric and his ideas about its functional importance in his model of communicative rationality. The paper includes the analysis of a case of controversy over the publishability of a scientific article. This article which was perceived by its peer reviewers to violate the conditions Habermas posits as necessary for rational discourse to occur, thus providing empirical support for his theory.

Rational medical decision making: Evidence-based practice at AIHA Partnerships. 

Ruth Cronje in collaboration with Aaron Broege

2002. American International Health Alliance. Washington, DC.
Click here to view the document from AIHA.
The images on my homepage were pictures taken in Ukraine and Croatia as part of this study.

WIND-EAU Project

In collaboration with Gloria Hochstein, Julie Peterson, and Karen Welch

Project WIND-EAU is a systematic effort to learn how all teaching faculty and teaching academic staff in all disciplines at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) assign, use, and evaluate writing in their courses. In addition, this project seeks to assess the impact of changing information technologies on student writing at UWEC.

Throughout the 2001-2002 academic year, the Project WIND-EAU team collected three types of data to allow methodological triangulation:
ï An online survey of all 562 UWEC faculty, of which 22% responded;
ï Interviews of 40 selected faculty, from 23 departments;
ï Analysis of writing assignments and graded student work from selected faculty.

We identified consistent areas of faculty concern with students' ability to write, and identified areas in which faculty perceptions and approaches differed greatly regarding students and writing. Some topics of our research include the pedagogical use of writing assignments, concern with student writing performance, faculty attitudes towards technology, faculty attitudes regarding plagiarism, faculty attitudes about the critical thinking skills of students, and faculty observations about aspect (s) of writing (grammar and mechanics, content, style, synthesis, etc.) that are most important and/or most problematic.

Analysis of our survey responses, interviews, and students' writing samples strongly suggest that one required writing course during our students' first year of college should be only the beginning--not the end--of their college writing instruction. Some advanced writing courses in the English Department are offered as general electives. While such writing courses can enhance students' general understanding of writing strategies, forms, and purposes, our research suggests that students need further writing experience that becomes increasingly targeted to the discourses, methods of inquiry, and rhetorical strategies of their own disciplines.

Several departments at UWEC require (or at least offer) a writing intensive course that further develops their majors' use of writing to better understand and interact with the discipline. History, Business Communication, and Philosophy/Religious Studies are examples of departments that have courses with the word "writing" in the title; some departments, such as Biology, Mathematics, Social Work, and a few others have writing-intensive courses that include significant and/or frequent writing assignments and instruction. We view these courses as models from which interdisciplinary conversations could begin. A number of faculty from a variety of disciplines already use effective strategies for teaching and assigning writing, and we believe that we could all learn much from each other.

All of the participants in our study are clearly concerned about the writing performance of UWEC students. They recognize a variety of reasons for including writing in their courses, and they have realistic expectations about the quality of writing their students should be turning in. They want students to become good critical thinkers, to engage in thorough and meaningful research, to learn how to organize and develop their ideas effectively, and to apply the conventions of English grammar and usage accurately and creatively. However, many of them are concerned about the quality of the writing students are submitting; they both appreciate and express concern about the effects of technology on students' learning; and they want to find more effective ways to help students understand the seriousness of plagiarism.