PBL and Competency Based Education in Plant Biology

mmphillips at stkate.edu mmphillips at stkate.edu
Thu Nov 18 10:12:13 EST 2004

Dear Plant-Ed,

Many months ago I queried the group about case studies for teaching plant
biology - and got some good responses, although there still seems to be not
much developed for teaching plant biology.   In a similar vein, I'm
wondering about your experiences in using problem-based learning (aka PBL)
and competency-based education in plant biology.

I teach the second semester of our General Biology sequence, in which
(theoretically) I teach our students something about ecology, evolution,
and plant biology.  I also teach an upper level plant biology course with
juniors and seniors who have had the gen bio sequence plus both cell
biology and genetics.    I find so little evidence of long term retention
and ability to transfer the knowledge supposedly acquired in the previous
years that I'm really frustrated and feel a great need to make big changes
in what I am doing - both in gen bio and in my plant bio course.

So, my questions to all of you are:
1)  What do you think are the key competencies that you would want all
students who take plant bio to come away with?  Maybe it's better phrased
as what should every citizen know about plants and plant biology (even my
bio major students are not going to pursue plant biology any further)  Yes,
there are lots of wonderful things to learn and come to appreciate about
plants, but  what knowledge, skills, and attitudes are really ESSENTIAL ?
(Maybe the flip side of this is what are the key misconceptions we want to
disabuse them of...?)   The key to switching to competency-based learning
is to determine the core competencies!

2) What's your experience with problem-based learning.  Do you have good
examples of problems you've used?  (I must admit to struggling to design
good ones)    What are your "words to the wise?"   Can one really do PBL
well in a class of 50?


Martha Phillips, Ph.D.
Biology Department
The College of St. Catherine
2004 Randolph Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105

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