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

Aure Entuluva!

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:
 >(yes, even
 >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 
 Dave Williams

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