September 12, 2010

University Offers New Introduction to Biology Courses to Freshmen Class

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The Class of 2014 has been the first to experience the University’s new biology curriculum, which replaces the year-long introductory level biology class Biology 1101-2 with two out of three core “choice” courses. These courses include major themes of introductory biology, cellular and developmental biology, physiology, ecology and evolution.Decisions to implement the new curriculum were largely based on surveys of recently graduated biology majors and those who were five to ten years out of college. Prof. Jed Sparks, director of undergraduate biology, led the faculty task force that was assigned to address the concerns raised by the surveys.“By and large, all of our people who went to medical school, grad school and vet school were happy with their biology experience,” Sparks said. “They only had one comment, that ‘I didn’t get what I wanted to get out of my freshman introductory class.’”The task force, created five years ago, eventually decided on the current plan and they tested certain classes this past spring. Instead of being a weekly, step-driven process, the introductory biology lab is now an independent stand-alone class. The new lab includes four long-term exercises that do not have a clear academic end point. According to Sparks, the objective is to allow students to learn how to think like a scientist.“When you’re 18-years-old, starting college, and think you’re really interested in biology, what you’re interested in is being a medical doctor or being a researcher… What you’re not interested in is taking Chemistry 207 and Biology 101 and Calculus,” Sparks said. “The best thing a freshman can do is to [experience] what it’s like to be a researcher and what kind of skills [they] want to learn [in order] to be researcher; that’s where the investigative lab comes from.”Given the large percentage of premedical students enrolled in the biology major, special attention is paid to make sure the new curriculum prepares students for MCATs and medical school. Premeds, who are required to take one year of introductory biology with lab work, may option to take the popular self-tutorial Biology 1105-6 instead. The average class size for the self-tutorial is around 250 students, including upperclassman who bypassed biology freshman year. The ultimate goal is to progress toward classes with 150 freshmen. According to Sparks, courses might become specialized enough to limit class size to 25 students.While other freshman options were adapted from upper-level courses, Cellular and Developmental Biology was created from scratch. Coordinators said they believe the overarching concepts of developmental biology will give new biology majors a good background. Prof. Maria Garcia, molecular biology and genetics, is teaching Biology 1350, the developmental half of this course in the fall semester.“I find [this area] is usually procrastinated from studies. I never took a developmental biology course when I went to college,” Garcia said. “It’s not something that is in the minds of everybody, but it would be nice to see that since freshman year.”Like previous years, declared biology majors entered the new curriculum orientation with some apprehension.Alessandra Hirsch ’12, biology student advisor, said, “It was tough to learn the curriculum since it doesn’t apply to me. A lot of the freshman were questioning which class to choose. I had to study it in depth [in order] to be able to advice them.” Premedical biology major Vanessa Velez ’13 expressed some of the concerns shared by others who have already tackled the full introductory level course.“I don’t know how the two subjects come together to form a good biology bases,” Velez said. “But, it will be interesting to see how it turns out.”

Original Author: Tajwar Mazhar