was team teaching; now FACTS?
SMeissne at AOL.COM
SMeissne at AOL.COM
Wed Jul 14 18:17:43 EST 1999
While I agree that students can be burried in information, I think that there
is value in training students to learn how to assimilate a large body of
information, and then apply that information in evaluating important issues.
It is the business of professors to decide which issues students should have
to be able to intelligently evaluate. And what types of evaluation of
information they should be able to carry out.
For instance: Should biology majors have to use statistical tests to
evaluate the data they collect in laboratory exercises? Should they have to
learn how to search out previously published information in the published
literature? Should they have to be able to read at a level that allows them
to understand the published literature?
But many lectures do not cover evaluation of information. Many lectures (and
I know that there are some folks in this group who would jump on me if I do
not acknowledge that they don't fall into this trap...) are full of factoids,
and weak on analysis.
One of the best courses I took as an undergraduate was a course in which the
professor taught us about photosynthesis from the primary literature. Each
lecture would cover several articles. We could read them or not as we
choose, but the professor made the conflicts between early models of
photosynthesis so stark, and described so clearly how new information from a
paper caused a reevaluation of how photosynthesis was conceived, that I went
and looked up several of the papers each week.
Instruction of undergraduates needs more than content, it needs context. It
needs conflict! We need to show students, by bring out issues from current
or past literature that there are conflicting views of many biological
issues. Give the students that, show them that we need people to get to the
heart of a issue, and then ask them to learn the content. But cover the
content, so that they learn the dicipline necessary to go into any area they
What I would like to see, instead of a debate over content, is a discussion
off papers people use to describe current or past scientific conflicts. For
instance, currently Canny has put forward an interesting model of how xylem
functions, which is in conflict with some aspects of the cohesion tension
theory. The fact that scientists are still arguing over how xylem sap flows
and how cavitation is avoided should be pointed out to students so that they
can realize that what they are learning are not facts, but hypotheses. And
the first thing necessary to evaluate the competition's hypothesis is to
understand it fully. That is why the details matter and have to be examined.
Scott T. Meissner
smeissne at aol.com
In a message dated 99-07-14 13:03:56 EDT, you write:
In a message dated 07/14/1999 10:02:44 AM, drobinson at bellarmine.edu writes:
>memorizing!) vocabulary is a critical part of that process.
Dave Robinson you blaspheme! <big, wide grin here>
Perhaps we should put things in perspective. We need *whole* students,
teachers, and scientists. What would we think of a politician who didn't
which came first, the French Revolution or the Spanish-American War? What
would we think of a biologist who didn't know what glycolysis or a polar
was? Could such a one use, as an excuse, that their specialty was mammalian
Can we have surgeons who know how to make an incision in the body wall but
know neither where the gall bladder lies nor what its function is? It's like
the chicken and the egg. Neither comes first, they come together. You can't
have one without the other.
We are certainly doing disservice to any potential biological graduate
student if, in the context of teaching biology, we don't at least delineate
some minimal set of important content, such as the chemiosmotic hypothesis,
Darwin's theory of natural selection, Mendel's law of segregation, the
Watson/Crick theory of DNA function, and so on. When they discover the need
to know these things on their own it will be much too late to avoid the
embarrassment of ignorance.
I don't mean to negate the long neglected need for actively teaching the
process of science. But should we go as far as Bill Purves in his assertion
that there is no specific fact which must be learned in undergraduate
biology? Perhaps what he means if that there is no one fact so important
it could not, in the interest of better learning, be omitted (but certainly
not along with every other such fact).
And while we're at it, what about descriptive science? Don't students need
understand that the quest for pattern, classification, organization, and law
are valid research objectives? Science is not strictly experimental. When
how do we incorporate this vital aspect of biology into the "process" of
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