Question

Russell_Goddard rgoddard at valdosta.edu
Fri Nov 13 11:17:03 EST 1998


On 13 Nov 1998, Ross Koning wrote:

> I guess I'd say that the opening shot of my courses is
> more that biology is about plants and the animals which
> depend upon plants...to kind of turn your last phrase
> around a bit.
> 

My definition is more "cute,"  
Biology is the study of PLANTS and their parasites.....

But on a more serious note, why do we spend so much time justifying the
importance of botany, especially to our colleagues?  As Botany, Zoology,
and Microbiology departments have merged into Biology departments over the
years, there has been tremendous attrition in the undergraduate curriculum
devoted to botany.  As we stress disciplines such as organismal biology,
ecology and evolution, and cell and molecular biology we generally give
students (in a biology dept) a choice of taking a plant-oriented vs.
animal-oriented class.  Given the choice, students who don't know anything
about plants find them BORING and choose to study something more
interesting to them (e.g. animals).  In many cases, these students are
exposed to plant biology only in their two semester sequence of intro
biology.  In a micro / macro approach, the second semester will consider
diversity; how much time do your students discuss plant biology in a
course like this? I have seen some instructors avoid teaching plant
biology in these situations (probably b/c they don't understand the
subject either?).  In our non-majors diversity class, I overheard one
zoology professor state (as I passed by the lecture room door), "plants
are much easier to study b/c they only have three cell types."  He must
have been referring to  primary growth and development and the three
primary meristems, but I didn't stick around to find out.  I tried to
approach him after class (diplomatically of course!) and ask about his
interpretation.  He was responsive to my critism and has developed his
lectures better in this area.

Before I continue my ranting, what I want to ask is how many
Biology Departments use a two semester introductory approach in their
undergraduate curriculum?  Those that do use it, do you find the "macro"
half to be useful to the students?  We have maintained a biology major
core curriculum sequence that includes an Introduction course (micro
approach), Zoology, and Botany.  Many on our department (non-botanists)
faculty want to consolidate Zoology and Botany together and we seem to
fight this battle yearly.  I need only to poll my students at the
beginning of my Botany class to know that 99+ % of them have no interest
in taking the course. Reading my evaluations after the class though is
extremely rewarding.  It is good to know that I have developed in students
a better understanding of the botanical world and that they now appreciate
plants as more than life support for animals.  Would they have this
knowledge if they had not taken Botany?  

I seriously think that many departments are not doing justice to "Biology"
by not exposing students to a balanced organismal (diversity) approach vs.
sub-discipline approach (ecology, evol., cell, etc).  Obviously we can't
do it all in an undergraduates four-year career, but what priorities
should we set for student learning at the end of an undergraduate
curriculum?

Sorry for being so verbose, but I would appreciate seeing other responses
to the group.

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Russell H. Goddard		Phone:  (912) 249-2642
Valdosta State University	Main Office:  (912) 333-5759
Biology Department		FAX:	(912) 333-7389
202 Nevins Hall		     email: rgoddard at valdosta.edu	
Valdosta, GA  31698-0015     http://www.valdosta.edu/~rgoddard/
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