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Abstract

Scientific inquiry is a complex skill. Aspiring physicians need to learn these skills so that they can be educated consumers of medical research as well as being collaborators in different kinds of clinical trials. But school science often fails to provide the kind of authentic tasks needed to help students develop appropriate reasoning skills and epistemological beliefs. In this study, we compared a group of expert cancer researchers with four groups of fourth year medical students (the “novice” groups) engaged in the task of designing a clinical trial to test a new cancer drug using a computer-based modeling tool, the Oncology Thinking Cap. Although the experts and novices reached similar endpoints, their reasoning processes differed considerably. For the experts, this was a task that required learning about the drug they were testing. The novices needed to learn about designing clinical trials, particularly about how variables interacted with each other, as well as learning about the drug. One of the major lessons learned by the novice student groups was just how complex clinical trial design really is. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed86:219–243, 2002; DOI 10.1002/sce.10002