"The Science of Science Educaion: A Look at Undergraduate Science Education in the U.S."
13 December 2010
Biology in Society Senior Seminar
First reader: Professor Grobstein
Second reader: Professor Davis
“The Science of Science Education”
As time progresses, the influence of science on one’s life and the need for both non-scientists and scientists to possess some familiarity with this field continues to intensify. Despite the growing importance of science, currently only 28% of American citizens display a sufficient degree of appreciation and understanding of science to qualify as scientifically literate (Clough 2010). Motivated by the fact that less than one third of the population can understand and contribute to the innovations driving the scientifically-oriented American economy and defend America’s status as a science powerhouse, U.S. policy makers and researchers have sought to identify and remedy the factors hindering the promotion of scientific literacy.
While a myriad of things contribute to this societal scientific failure, people heavily fault science education which they view as existing for the purpose of transforming students into scientifically literate citizens. Although most researchers assessing the shortcomings of science education focus on the ability for secondary education to generate an interest in science, the ability for undergraduate schools to maintain this interest also deserves attention. Half of all students that enter U.S. undergraduate programs intending to major in the sciences, engineering, technology, or mathematics (STEM) ultimately switch to a non-STEM major which indicates that the interest in science formed during secondary schooling is not sufficient to propel a student through the metaphorical pipeline that runs from one’s first experience with science to a scientific career (“Increasing the Number” 2010). The fact that 35% of students intending on pursuing a STEM major switch to a non-STEM major after freshman year and the estimation that 60% of students in a typical introductory undergraduate STEM class derive no educational benefits suggest that deficiencies exist in introductory undergraduate STEM courses which substantially inhibit the acquisition of scientific literacy (“Increasing the Number” 2010 and Weiman 2007). While it is tempting to place all of the blame on the teaching inadequacies of the professors in charge of these classes, one must acknowledge the immense challenge faced by these professors who are expected to cater to the various needs of the increasingly diverse body of students that commonly populate introductory STEM courses. This paper examines the distinct needs and ideal learning situations for women, pre-medical students, and non-science majors, three major groups of students that enroll in these introductory science courses. In doing so, this paper argues that the problems associated with science education at undergraduate institutions stem from the difficulties posed to the institutions by the presence of such student diversity in introductory science courses. The paper then proceeds to suggest ideas for undergraduate science educators to improve their introductory courses in a way that benefits all three student groups discussed.
II. THE ENTRANCE OF SCIENCE INTO THE UNDERGRADUATE CURRICULUM
Although most modern U.S. post-secondary institutions recognize and attempt to address the need for their students to acquire scientific literacy by maintaining various science departments and mandating that their students complete at least one science course prior to graduation, this was not always the case. In the early stages of America’s existence, the few established American universities centered their curriculums around religion and classical studies (Clough 2010). During this period, those who wished to pursue science either flocked to Europe for higher education or resorted to educating themselves (Clough 2010).
Science did not really begin to infiltrate the university curriculum in the United States until the early 1800’s when Thomas Jefferson began to advocate for the freedom of inquiry which depended on the public’s ability to access science education. Jefferson’s University of Virginia, founded in 1819, served as one of the first U.S. institutions that provided instruction in both classics and science (Clough 2010). The industrial revolution led to the creation of land grants designated for future universities and the subsequent establishment of over 70 scientifically-oriented undergraduate institutions designed to produce more engineers capable of advancing America’s technological progress (Clough 2010). In the decades following Jefferson’s initial advocacy for science instruction, more people began to take an interest in optimizing science education. Recognizing the growing importance of science, presidents from ten influential undergraduate institutions including Harvard and Vassar, met in 1891 to establish a standard set of science requirements for college admissions (DeBoer 1991). In their discussions, the “committee of ten” argued that science education should resemble what is known today as inquiry-based education which focuses on student constructed learning rather than teacher-led lectures (Wright 2005).A study revealed that in 1927, undergraduate science education focused on science generalizations and that on average, college textbooks only contained 10% of material that stressed the practical applications of science (DeBoer 1991). Up until the end of World War II, people seeking to reform science education attempted to increase the amount of time devoted to discussing the relevance of science by arguing for the utilization of problem-based science education (Wright 2005).
The launch of Sputnik I and the desire to achieve victory in the Cold War technology race caused the nation to reevaluate the way science was being taught at all levels and resulted in an increase in funding for students interested in the sciences to attend college (Clough 2010). Policy makers encouraged educators to revert back to the traditional lecture based model for science education which a majority of science professors continue to use today (Wright 2005). Despite its prevalence in modern undergraduate institutions, science education expert Carl Wieman considers this traditional model outdated (2007). This model originated centuries ago from the practice of an expert mentoring an apprentice and catered only to the elite men capable of affording such education (Wieman 2007). Consequently, the traditional lecture model is no longer applicable for current university science classrooms since it was not designed to address the needs of the diverse student body enrolling in these courses.
III. FEMALE STUDENTS IN INTRODUCTORY SCIENCE COURSES
Women constitute one such group of students now contributing to the diversity of the modern introductory science course. From a modern perspective which views the sciences as masculine in contrast to the “soft,” feminine humanities and encourages women to participate in the male dominated sciences, it is difficult to consider the promotion of women’s undergraduate science education as anything but an innovative attempt at breaking gender barriers. Yet, one must remember that classical languages initially dominated the curriculums of prestigious male colleges that sought to prepare men for a profession in law. Since colleges for men did not concern themselves with the sciences at this time, this academic subject was deemed less practical and was thus considered a feminine area of study (Levin 2005). As early nineteenth century elite colleges were distinguished by the quality of their classics courses, schools such as Mount Holyoke College which emphasized science in their curriculum for women during this time period further confined female students to the stereotypical gender norms (Levin 2005). However, by the mid-nineteenth century, science started becoming “professionalized” and it developed into a masculine pursuit (Levin 2005). This professionalizing of science coincided with the opening of the early seven sister women’s colleges: Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. For this reason, the addition of science and classics courses to the curriculums of these schools proved to be a more radical step for women.
Following the masculanization of science, societal attitudes and most higher education institutions acted as barriers discouraging women from scientific participation which resulted in a lack of female representation in the sciences. Within the past few decades, society began to acknowledge the limited involvement of women in the sciences as problematic since, for one thing, it excluded a group of people capable of contributing to and providing a fresh perspective on the scientific innovations driving the economy. In an attempt to remedy this situation, policy makers increased funding for women interested in pursuing the sciences during college, conducted studies on what motivates women to learn science, and enacted Title IX, a law put into place in 1972 which prevents discrimination based on gender in educational institutions receiving federal funding (Hill et al. 2010).
These efforts contributed to an increase in the number of women achieving science bachelor’s degrees. Since the National Science Foundation estimates that women now earn slightly over half of all STEM bachelor degrees in the country, it is tempting to conclude that a problem with women’s science education no longer exists in colleges and universities (NSB 2010). However, one must not forget the fact that about half of all women intending to complete a science major ultimately switch to a non-science major and that women are still more likely than men to purse a non-science major (Bystydzienski and Bird 2006). Also, the portion of women earning bachelor’s degrees varies in each STEM field. For instance, women received 61% of all biology bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2007 yet, physics, computer science, and engineering majors still remained heavily dominated by men (NSB 2010). Researchers attribute the gravitation of women to the biological sciences to the fact that this field appears to offer opportunities for interacting with and helping people which most women desire (Rosser 2000). Overtime, this humanistic appeal of biology led to the presence of more female student and faculty role models in the undergraduate biology department which, as multiple studies have shown, further attracts females to this major (Eisen 2009). On the other hand, many female undergraduates do not enter physics, engineering, and computer science because they perceive these majors as not capable of meeting their educational desires and needs (Bystydzienski and Bird 2006).
As the traditional means for teaching science at the undergraduate level was designed to benefit only men, it inherently favors men and thus fails to fulfill the educational needs unique to the female student body. Traditional academic science still includes several key elements found in the male social system which means that women entering undergraduate introductory science courses experience culture shock as they encounter these unfamiliar masculine values (Bystydzienski and Bird 2006). One masculine aspect still retained in undergraduate science education which women often struggle to adapt to is the “weed out” process where instructors present introductory science students with a challenge which serves to eliminate the less qualified students. This notion of proving your worthiness by overcoming a challenge is a common feature in many male social activities such as fraternities and sports (Seymour and Hewitt 1997). For this reason, women who are accustomed to a more nurturing socialization process, struggle to respond to this “weed out” technique (Seymour and Hewitt 1997). Consequently, treating male and female students equally by posing the same challenge of a fast paced curriculum to both genders actually disadvantages the female students in science courses.
As a side product of the “weed out” process, competition tends to permeate the introductory science classes. While both male and female students disapprove of it, academic competition affects women to a greater degree not only because it plays less of a role in their socialization but also since it interferes with their desire to collaborate with their classmates. In addition to interacting with their peers, women enter college expecting to forge a relationship with their professors (Seymour and Hewitt 1997). Studies show that women desire and depend on feedback from their teachers more so than men which causes women to classify “good” professors on the basis of their approachability rather than their ability to explain material (Seymour and Hewitt 1997). However, the large class sizes and teacher-centered lecture style associated with introductory science courses make for an impersonal learning environment that is not conducive for frequent teacher-student interaction. If women persist through the “weed out” process, they find some relief in the advanced science courses which provide more of an opportunity for them to interact with their instructors. Unfortunately, many female students grow frustrated with all of the masculine elements of the introductory courses and switch to a non-science major long before reaching the higher level classes (Seymour and Hewitt 1997).
Judging from their exceptionally high STEM graduation rates, small liberal arts women’s colleges have proven particularly successful at ensuring that women interested in the sciences reach the advanced courses (Abrahams in Bystydzienski and Bird 2006). Neal Abrahams, a physicist who received his PhD from Bryn Mawr, examined the science departments in Bryn Mawr College, a small liberal arts women’s college in Pennsylvania, in order to explain the achievements in women’s science education at these women’s colleges. The percentage of women that receive science bachelor’s degrees from Bryn Mawr consistently far exceeds the national average (Abrahams in Bystydzienski and Bird 2006). Since approximately 40% of its STEM faculty is female, Bryn Mawr exposes students considering a science major to numerous role models (Abrahams in Bystydzienski and Bird 2006). Smaller introductory science class sizes at Bryn Mawr allow students to better interact with and receive feedback from professors. The existence of “major lounges” for each STEM field provides a place for Bryn Mawr students with various backgrounds in a STEM field to meet up and thus promotes the collaboration of introductory science students with peers from their class and from more advanced science courses (Abrahams in Bystydzienski and Bird 2006). Both Judith Shapiro, the former president of Barnard College, and Abrahams agree that one of the more unique aspects of women’s colleges that significantly contributes to their high female STEM graduation rates is that their introductory science professors avoid recruiting only their most exceptional students who already possess a strong STEM background (in Bystydzienski and Bird 2006 and Bradley 2006). Instead, these professors encourage all levels of students in introductory science courses to pursue a major in their field.
Taking into consideration the successful elements of science education at women’s colleges and the educational needs of female students, researchers have proposed several pedagogical suggestions geared towards the optimization of science education for women at all undergraduate institutions. Education experts urge science educators to abandon the traditional lecture style in favor of a more learner-centered form of instruction (Bystydzienski and Bird 2006). Through group discussions, learner-centered teaching offers students more of an opportunity to interact with their classmates and professors. A 2010 study comparing the long term effects of a traditional versus learner-centered undergraduate introductory biology class indicated that all students stand to benefit from learner-centered education since senior biology majors who completed the learner-centered introductory course scored higher on a standardized biology exam than the seniors who took the traditional introductory class (Derting et al.). To further promote student collaboration, Meg Urry, a physics professor at Yale, encourages science faculty to eliminate the source of competition in introductory science courses: the practice of curving grades (Marsden 2006). In addition to changing the method of grading, STEM professors should emphasize the humanistic aspects of their field in their introductory courses in order to appeal to female students’ desire to help people (Rosser 2000).
IV. PREMEDICAL STUDENTS IN INTRODUCTORY SCIENCE COURSES
Premedical students constitute another group of undergraduates enrolling in introductory science classes. Of the three types of students examined in the paper, premedical students usually complete the most introductory science courses during their undergraduate career as they attempt to fulfill the premedical requirements which include a year of introductory biology, introductory physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, math, and English. Students are content filling up their schedules with these prescribed courses as long as it gets them one step closer to medical school. Consequently, premedical students expect introductory science courses to prepare them for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), an exam designed to evaluate students’ knowledge of the premedical content.
By adversely affecting undergraduate introductory science curriculums, the use and weight of the MCAT in admissions decisions has negatively impacted both premed and non-premed students. To avoid hindering their students’ chances of medical school acceptance by neglecting to cover testable material, professors allow the MCAT to dictate their introductory science curriculums. A 2003 faculty survey revealed that undergraduate introductory courses sufficiently cover material considered essential by medical schools (Labov 2005). However, this achievement comes at a cost since faculty members must eliminate topics that they deem essential in order to include all of the MCAT material. Consequently, premed and non-premed students are not exposed to certain fundamental concepts necessary for other career paths such as research.
Furthermore, some professors feel that they their curriculum sacrifices promote material that is no longer relevant for the practice of modern medicine (Arnaud 2009). After all, how often do doctors today rely on their knowledge of the Dies-Alder reaction? A recent study has also drawn into question the necessity of the MCAT and premedical requirements by concluding that Mount Sinai medical students who did not take the MCAT or the premedical course load performed just as well as traditional medical students before and after graduation (Muller et al. 2010). If the premed requirements are actually irrelevant for medical practice, then the premed introductory science courses could be weeding out students capable of becoming excellent physicians. Some argue that this basic science education helps physicians adapt to the changing medical field by familiarizing them with the underlying science behind new medicinal technology (Arnaud 2009). However, one must question the ability of these premedical courses to convey the basic science appropriate for the continuously evolving medical field if the premedical requirements remain static for another century. A Haverford College professor noted the constraints imposed on undergraduate science courses by the unchanging nature of premedical requirements by stating “we have pretty much been teaching the first two years of introductory courses the same way for decades” (Arnaud 2009).
To liberate undergraduate science courses from these constraints and improve premedical students’ experience with introductory science courses, education reformers have focused their efforts on altering the premedical requirements. Lewis Thomas, author of “How to Fix the Premedical Curriculum,” proposes the elimination of the MCAT and the premedical requirements that it tests (Gross et al. 2008). Other less radical critics hope to remedy the situation by substituting a few premedical requirements with humanities courses or condensing the premedical curriculum (Gross et al. 2008). While these two approaches differ in their degree of severity, they share the same goal. America invented the liberal arts education and encourages its premedical students to acquire such a liberal education. However, in addition to the typical liberal arts general education requirements, premedical students must load their schedules with an overwhelming number of science courses and “shifting too much science into college inevitably undermines a truly liberal education” (Gunderman et al. 2008). These two approaches look to incorporate and restore the liberal arts aspect of premedical education by diluting the premed student’s schedule with non-science classes. By diversifying their course load, Thomas and other critics hope to re-humanize the premed population. Thomas’ ideal premedical curriculum centers around classical studies, a subject which ironically helped spark the creation of the original science-oriented premedical requirements since the figures involved in establishing the requirements considered it useless in premedical training (Gunderman et al. 2008 and Fishbein 2001). According to Thomas, a physician must possess knowledge of what it means to be a human and he believes that classics courses will help premedical students achieve this essential understanding (Gunderman et al. 2008). Encouraging premed students to stray away from a course load dominated by science courses also helps ensure that these students will be challenged and stimulated by the basic science, pre-clinical portion of medical school (Gunderman et al. 2008).
The most recent evaluation of the current premedical education emphasized a more content-oriented reform. In June 2009, the Association of American Medical Colleges and Howard Hughes Medical Institute released “Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians” which proposed redesigning premedical and medical education to make them more competency-based (Eisen 2009). The report outlines eight competencies which every premedical student should understand upon graduation (Eisen 2009). These competencies focus on applying basic medically relevant skills and lead to the “study of concepts underlying medicine” (Eisen 2009). This report hopes to convey these competencies via a wide range of interdisciplinary courses that allow students to recognize the material’s biomedical relevance while teaching them how to solve problems by combining various disciplines (Eisen 2009). This reform has the potential to benefit premed students as it would give them more flexibility in course selection and would discourage the compartmentalization of sciences traditionally employed by students studying for individual MCAT subjects. The proposed plan also appeals to educators yearning for the freedom to redesign their introductory science curriculums.
V. NON-SCIENCE MAJORS IN INTRODUCTORY SCIENCE COURSES
While premedical students recognize that their career depends on their completion of introductory science courses, non-science majors often fail to understand the need for them to sit through a science class. In reality, however, the science education non-science majors receive significantly impacts the trajectory of both their lives and science research. As tax payers and future employees at government agencies, non-science majors will eventually be responsible for funding scientific endeavors. In order to preserve the future of scientific research, scientists must ensure that non-science majors possess an appreciation for scientific discovery that will motivate them to financially support scientific investigations. Due to the increasing influence of science and technology on politics, these students, as voting citizens, require the ability to make scientifically informed decisions about certain political controversies such as global warming and stem cell research (Clough 2010). In emphasizing the importance of science for non-scientists, noted chemist Linus Pauling expressed concerns about the rate of science development exceeding the development of the average citizen’s scientific understanding (in Glynn et al. 2007). A series of National Science Foundation surveys which concluded that half of all U.S. citizens worry about how rapidly science changes, confirm that this problem noted by Pauling in 1951 still exists today (Clough 2010).
In his paper, Pauling identified science educators as one of the groups of people responsible for quelling this scientific apprehension expressed by non-scientists (in Glynn et al. 2007). Unfortunately, science professors at undergraduate institutions face immense difficulties when attempting to teach non-science majors since these students enter introductory science classes with preconceptions and fears about science and various levels of familiarity and interest in science. The majority of non-science majors enroll in an introductory science course for the purpose of satisfying their general education requirements (Wright 2005). The fact that their class most likely constitutes the last formal experience non-science majors have with science education puts an enormous amount of pressure on the professors of introductory science classes. In a 10-15 week period, introductory science professors must make sure that these non-science majors acquire the amount of scientific understanding necessary for survival in the modern day. Science professors are also expected to help remedy the failures of primary science education by providing non-science majors with enough knowledge and enthusiasm about science so that the students who go on to become elementary school teachers can effectively teach science to the next generation of learners. To compensate for the deficiencies in pre-collegiate science education, undergraduate science faculty must attempt to inspire students who prematurely dismissed the idea of pursuing a STEM major as a result of poor secondary science education to take additional science courses and consider switching to a STEM major.
Since non-science majors tend to restrict their undergraduate science education to one introductory course, what they need to derive from an introductory science class differs from the needs of a science major. Science majors require introductory courses that establish a foundation of scientific concepts which they can expand upon in future courses while non-science majors need a course that confers scientific literacy and enables them to recognize how science relates to their lives (Wright 2005). Several educators adamantly believe that this variation in educational goals warrants separate introductory science courses for majors and non-science majors. In designing an ideal science course for non-science majors, faculty should avoid the watered-down survey course which involves superficially examining a wide range of concepts (Wright 2005 and Glynn et al. 2007). By reinforcing their misconception that understanding science depends on the memorization of a multitude of dull facts, survey courses can actually negatively impact non-science majors (Wright 2005). As she believes that there exists no scientific content that is vital for the life of a non-scientist, Robin Wright, a biology professor, urges instructors of science classes for non- majors to focus their efforts on teaching the skills, not content, necessary for scientific literacy which she defines as the ability to ask and answer scientific questions (2005). Of course, most science professors hope that the students in their non-majors course obtain these essential skills. However, the content-oriented syllabi of most non-major science courses suggest that science instructors mistakenly assume that by teaching them the content, non-science majors will recognize its significance and learn how to utilize it in their daily lives (Wright 2005).
To ensure that their students acquire the skills and interest needed to pose and answer scientific questions, professors of these non-major courses must first motivate them to learn science. According to a 2007 study, non-science majors’ motivation to learn science increases when the students perceive science as relevant to their future career (Glynn et al.). Unfortunately, the same study also revealed that majority of non-science majors fail to connect the science they learned in their undergraduate course to their career path (Glynn et al. 2007). In order to make the relevance of science more apparent, when teaching courses for non-majors, science faculty should utilize problem-based instruction and integrate a variety of scientific case studies that relate to the occupational interests of non-majors into the curriculum (Glynn et al. 2007).
Teaching non-scientists how to read primary science literature further stresses the relationship between science and the student’s field of choice as it requires the student to apply the literary and analytical skills that they learned from courses in their major. While many professors reject the idea of instructing non-science majors to read primary literature since it detracts from the amount of content they can cover, it seems that non-major courses that involve primary literature readings offer lessons that are more valuable than mere content (Gillen et al. 2004). For example, by reading primary science literature, non-science majors come to realize that science is not objective and that, like literature from their humanities courses, it requires interpretation (Gillen et al. 2004). Group discussions about primary literature reading assignments promote an active learning environment and allow students to come to the conclusion that disagreement is inherently part of the scientific process (Gillen et al. 2004). Interdisciplinary non-major courses co-taught by faculty from a range of science disciplines and the utilization labs that involve experiments designed by groups of students can illuminate another facet of the scientific process: collaboration (Duchovic et al. 1998). No matter how science professors approach teaching a non-major course, the rigor of the non-majors class must parallel that of the course designated for science majors in order to maintain the interest of the non-major students and to prevent them from thinking that they are not learning “real science” (Wright 2005).
VI. SUGGESTIONS FOR CREATING ONE INTRODUCTORY CLASS FOR ALL
Although Robin Wright and other prominent educators advocate for the establishment of separate science courses for majors and non-science majors, not all undergraduate institutions can afford to offer multiple introductory science classes geared towards different groups of students. One could even make the argument that it is disadvantageous to divide these groups of scholars into different introductory courses since it prevents these students from learning how to communicate with each other and thus contributes to the disconnect that exists between scientists and the public. Also, these three groups are not mutually exclusive. Female, premed, non-science majors do exist. Separate introductory classes cannot address the unique combination of educational needs of students that fall into multiple categories. For these reasons, undergraduate institutions should focus on making their introductory science courses more conducive for a diverse student audience. While all three groups of students discussed in this paper have distinct educational needs, the pedagogical strategies for meeting these needs occasionally overlap. Educators can utilize these points of pedagogical similarity to create an introductory science course that accommodates women, premedical students, and non-science majors.
a. History of Science Can Benefit the Future of Science
One suggestion for improving undergraduate science education involves the incorporation of the history of science in all introductory science courses. In an introductory course setting, the history of science can positively impact students’ attitudes towards science while enhancing their scientific understanding by familiarizing them with the process of science. Looking at the ideas that preceded a scientific concept of interest and examining the modifications that have been made overtime to said concept informs students that science is fallible and not static (Gooday et al. 2008). This awareness of the unchanging nature of science comforts all students considering a career in the sciences as it reassures them that there is still room for them to make significant contributions to their scientific field of choice (Gooday et al. 2008). Identifying the various individuals responsible for a scientific discovery and describing how these figures came to reach this discovery re-humanizes the sciences by emphasizing the collaboration and creativity involved in the scientific process (Clough 2009). In doing so, the history of science remedies students’ misconceptions about how science works and thus has the potential to attract to the sciences women and non-science majors seeking to enter a field that allows them to interact with people and think creatively (Clough 2009). Faculty can also inspire women to pursue a STEM major with the history of science by highlighting the scientific contributions made by women and introducing them to historical female role models. Teaching the process of science through history also provides non-science majors with an opportunity to learn the skills associated with scientific literacy from the masters as they can observe how prominent figures in science asked and then answered a scientific question. Since the history of science depends on primary science literature, all students in an introductory class would learn how to read these primary documents (Gooday et al. 2008). History of science’s presence in an introductory science class makes the course interdisciplinary which, as discussed above, benefits all three groups of students in this paper (Clough 2009). Ultimately, the inclusion of the history of science in an introductory science curriculum teaches students scientific concepts and techniques in a more memorable way (Clough 2009).
Of course, one cannot suggest such a radical change in curriculum without encountering some opposition. Some educators fear that the inclusion of history in a science class will cause potential-science majors to develop an interest in the humanities and leave the sciences in favor of a non-science major. However, no concrete evidence supports this concern (Gooday et al. 2008). Others worry about not being able to cover as much content and the reluctance of textbook companies to substantially modifying their products (Clough 2009). In response to these concerns, Michael Clough and his interdisciplinary colleagues developed “The Story of Science,” a supplemental text that includes history of science case studies that relate to concepts traditionally covered in introductory courses (Clough 2009). With this text, professors can selectively incorporate the history of science into their introductory curriculum in order to teach and reemphasize certain concepts (Clough 2009).
b. Feedback From and For Faculty
Another less content-oriented recommendation deals with enhancing the reciprocal transmission of feedback between science faculty members and their students. All students stand to benefit from an increase in feedback from faculty which can be achieved if science professors provide more constructive comments on students’ homework assignments and if they include group discussions and other active learning activities in their introductory courses (Weiman 2007). While faculty must provide students with feedback, they also need to receive it so that they can improve the introductory course for future students. To accomplish this, science departments should formulate and send a diagnostic pretest which inquires about a student’s math and science background, major, and goals for the course to students preregistered for a science course a few weeks before the course begins (Weiman 2007). By providing insight into the composition of the course’s student body in advance, the pretest permits the professor to tailor the course to the needs of this particular student audience. At the end of the term, in addition to a student evaluation, professors should distribute a post-test designed to evaluate what a student took from the course and assess the effectiveness of the pedagogical strategies implemented in the class (Weiman 2007). To evaluate the long term effects and utility of their introductory science courses, science departments could consider creating a survey for all seniors and graduates five years out of college who completed an introductory science course. The survey should ask about the student’s experience with the introductory course and how, if at all, the course impacted their undergraduate and postgraduate life.
Since the responsibility for developing and modifying introductory science courses should lie with the entire department, not just the individual teaching the course, professors need to share the feedback they receive with the rest of the department (Weiman 2007). Together, the department should devise a list of course goals, not a laundry list of concepts, which they will reevaluate periodically based on new feedback. The involvement of the entire department in designing courses helps professors of advanced science classes avoid spending an inordinate amount of time re-teaching students material learned at the introductory level, eases the transition for a new professor taking over the introductory course, and makes the department’s course offerings more cohesive (Weiman 2007). In addition to collaborating with members of their department, science professors, who often lack a strong background in education, should also work with the education faculty at their institution to find out how different types of students learn science. This will allow science professors to more effectively implement the feedback they obtain.
While the prospect of improving undergraduate science education appears daunting, it is not an insurmountable task. Undergraduate institutions seeking to ameliorate science education should first focus on their introductory science classes since these courses seem to play a critical role in determining whether students acquire scientific literacy and continue to pursue a career in science. To accomplish this, professors must familiarize themselves with their course’s student audience and implement pedagogical strategies that benefit all of the different groups of students populating their introductory science courses such as women, premedical students, and non-science majors. In order to encourage science departments to modify their introductory classes, undergraduate institutions need to make sure that science professors realize that science education can be viewed as a science (Weiman 2007). Like any other scientific endeavor, teaching science requires inter and intra-departmental collaboration, the development of a form of assessment to evaluate the success of a hypothesis, and data acquisition and extrapolation. By applying the research skills they use in their labs to their teaching, science professors can significantly improve undergraduate science education for all students.
Arnaud, Celia H. "Revisiting The Premed Curriculum." Chemical and Engineering 87 (2009):
Bradley, Pat. "Bridging the Science Gender Gap and Impacting Women's Colleges in the U.S.:
The Women's College Coalition." Her Story: Now and Then. (2006). Radio. Transcript.
Bystydzienski J.M. and Bird S.R. Removing Barriers: Women in Academic Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University Press; 2006.
Clough, M. P. (2009). Humanizing science to improve post-secondary science education. Paper
presented at the 10th International History, Philosophy of Science in Science Teaching (IHPST) Conference, Notre Dame, IN, June 24–28.
Clough, Wayne. Increasing Scientific Literacy: a Shared Responsibility. Rep. Smithsonian
Institution, 2010. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.
DeBoer G.E. (1991). A history of ideas in science education: Implications for practice. New
York: Teachers College Press.
Derting, T.L. and Ebert-May, D. “Learner-centered inquiry in undergraduate biology: positive
relationships with long-term student achievement.” CBE Life Sci Educ 9.4 (2010).
Duchovic, Ronald J., Maloney, David P., Majumdar, Aniket, and Manalis, Richard S. “Teaching
science to the nonscience major—an interdisciplinary approach.” Journal of College
Science Teaching. 27.4 (1998): 258.
Eisen, Ben. "Competencies Over Courses in Medical Education - Inside Higher Ed." Inside
Higher Ed. June 2009. Web. 8 Oct. 2010.
Eisen, Ben. "Seeking Advice on Women in Science - Inside Higher Ed." Inside
Higher Ed. July 2009. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.
Fishbein, Richard. “Origins of Modern Premedical Education.” Acad. Med. 76.5 (2001): 425-
Gillen, C.M., Vaughan, J. and Lye, B.R. “An online tutorial for helping nonscience majors read
primary research literature in biology.” Adv. Physiol. Educ. 28.95 (2004): 95-99.
Glynn, S.M., Taasoobshirazi, G., and Brickman, P. “Nonscience majors learning science: a
theoretical model of motivation.” J. of Research in Science Teaching. 44.8 (2007): 1088-
Gooday, G, Lynch, J.M., Wilson, K.G., and Barsky, C.K. “Does science education need the
history of science.” Isis. 99 (2008): 322-330.
Gross, Jeffrey P., Corina D. Mommaerts, David Earl, and Raymond G. De Vries. "Perspective:
After a Century of Criticizing Premedical Education, Are We Missing the Point?"
Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges 83.5 (2008): 516-20.
Web. 1 Oct. 2010. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18448911>.
Gunderman, Richard B., and Steven L. Kanter. "Perspective: "How to Fix the Premedical
Curriculum" Revisited." Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges 83.12
Hill, Catherine, Christianne Corbett, and Andresse St. Rose. Why so Few: Women in Science,
Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Rep. AAUW, Feb. 2010. Web. 25 Nov. 2010.
Increacing the Number of Stem Graduates: Insights from the U.S. STEM Education and
Modeling Project. Rep. BHEF, 2010. Web. 20 Nov. 2010.
Labov, Jay. "From the National Academies: Medical School Admissions Requirements and
Undergraduate Science Education." Cell. Biol. Educ. 4.1 (2005): 7-9.
Levin, M. R. Defining Women's Scientific Enterprise: Mount Holyoke Faculty and the Rise of
American Science. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England. 2005.
Marsden, Jessica. "Gender Gap in Majors Persists." Yale Daily News [New Haven] 27 Apr.
Muller, David., and Kase, Nathan. "Challenging Traditional Premedical Requirements as
Predictors of Success in Medical School: The Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Humanities and Medicine Program." Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges 85.8 (2010): 1378-383.
National Science Board. (2010). Science and engineering indicators 2010 (Volume 1, NSB 10-
01). Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation
Rosser, Sue Vilhauer. Women, Science, and Society: the Crucial Union. New York: Teachers
Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the
sciences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Weiman, C. (2007). A New Model for Post-Secondary Education, An Optimized University.
Carl Weiman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI). University of British Columbia.
Wright, R. “Points of view: content versus process: is this a fair choice?” Cell. Biol. Educ. 4.5