[Plant-education] The state of higher education

Bill Williams WEWilliams at smcm.edu
Sun Aug 14 17:14:05 EST 2005

I think part of what's happening here is that many -- most? -- of us  
who try to use discovery-based laboratories gave up on commercial lab  
manuals long ago. I know I use them mostly for reference, and I  
sometimes lend the samples I receive to students as a source of ideas  
and protocols. Is this the case for the rest of us? I haven't thought  
a lot about what a discovery-based lab manual would look like,  
although the home-grown ones we use for our introductory biology  
sequence might be a start. They have a series of cook-book labs  
interlaced with free labs, but of course there's not a lot of detail  
about the free labs because the students design them themselves. A  
terrific source book is the excellent (though somewhat dated) "Class  
Experiments in Plant Physiology" by Hans Meidner, a teacher's guide  
that I also sometimes lend to students as a sourcebook. Are there  
other books like this that members of this group know about?


On Aug 14, 2005, at 4:06 PM, ssinger at carleton.edu wrote:

> Jim,
> I've just been to the ESA education symposium and am currently  
> attending a BSA
> education forum. Not 5 minutes ago the same discussion arose here.  
> We all want
> more inquiry based experiences for our students, but the "market"  
> seems to be
> driving text and lab manual adoptions the other way. Perhaps as  
> members of this
> listserv we are all already members of the choir that believes the  
> evidence
> from learning science and supports inquiry based learning. How do  
> we reach the
> others that are adopting less innovative curricula?
> As the plant biology educators, aren't we the market? I think we  
> have some
> obligation collecitvely to change this.  I think both you and your  
> editor are
> correct and that's a sad state of affairs.
> this t
> Susan
> Quoting "Perry, Jim" <jperry at uwc.edu>:
>> Dear Members of Plant-ed:
>> My spouse, another colleague, and I are authors of a laboratory text
>> that accompanies a general biology textbook that is among the top  
>> of the
>> market. In response to our editor's request, the last significant
>> revision of our laboratory manual included many more investigative,
>> experimental exercises. We sought to challenge students to think  
>> beyond
>> rote memorization and cookbook stuff (although there is still  
>> plenty of
>> that). Now this same editor is complaining that our work is "too
>> complex," really in response to the fact that there is another lab
>> manual that people are buying instead of ours because he says the  
>> other
>> is "simpler."
>> The editor and I are having a major go-round about his desire to  
>> "give
>> 'em what they want" (and of course sell books) and my desire to live
>> with my conscience concerning what I think general education  
>> should be
>> about, and the expectations we should be upholding, especially for
>> students who may never take another biology course.
>> I would appreciate your take on what he has said to me. Is it  
>> possible
>> or probable that what he says is true? How could we determine if his
>> anecdotal statements are on the mark or if he's talking to the wrong
>> people? Is traditional higher education really in as much trouble  
>> as he
>> suggests, especially within 2YCs (Two-year colleges)? I'm at a 2YC  
>> that
>> is strictly liberal arts, so I know he's off mark on the  
>> requirements of
>> my campus. But I don't know about other places, or even comprehensive
>> four-year colleges or doctoral institutions.
>> This is not being sent to you with a desire to sell more books. But I
>> would like to figure out if I should be listening to him. And if he's
>> not correct, how I go about convincing him of that.
>> I said:
>> "I know that most of the adoptions are from community colleges. But
>> community colleges are becoming the primary entry point for future
>> bachelor-degree holders, meaning the students who start at a CC  
>> have to
>> transfer and be up to par with the students that started at the
>> four-year campuses. We have data that demonstrate that our [campus  
>> name]
>> students are even better prepared. (Admittedly, we are not a CC,  
>> but we
>> are a 2YC.) If those CC folks teach and accept high school (or less)
>> proficiency, trouble is brewing for the students. At what point to we
>> have a responsibility to the future of the nation to do the right
>> thing?"
>> He said:
>> "As far [as competitor] goes yes [competitor's] books have too many
>> errors including the text as well as the lab. That frustrates me  
>> as well
>> but it [sic] the simplicity of [the competitor's] presentation and  
>> lack
>> of some detail that wins professors over and I am positive that we  
>> are
>> more detailed given the reactions I get to our manual and all the  
>> reps
>> who say they want a lower level manual.
>> Profs in general don't care nearly as much about errors as they do  
>> about
>> simplicity and helping students get through the course ...  Over the
>> last 3 decades I have been equally frustrating [sic] dealing with  
>> profs
>> that use [the competitor's] texts as they don't know enough or care
>> enough to object to [the competitor's] errors ...
>> The low level of courses is all being driven by pressure from college
>> administrations for retention, prof's concern about poor course
>> evaluations, and their unwillingness to do the work to access  
>> [sic] the
>> students through homework and more rigorous testing. As publishers  
>> all
>> we can do is give them what they want. We can't change them as  
>> that will
>> have to come from within your ranks. I DO hope it comes but I'm
>> skeptical.  Professors have always wanted to give the masses a  
>> college
>> education. Now that they are doing that they are unwilling to  
>> maintain
>> rigor so that in effect they are teaching high school. They don't  
>> want
>> to admit that but for the most part during the first two years it's
>> fact.  When tenure is finally eliminated it will help overcome two of
>> the three issues.  Publisher's new assessment tools which do all  
>> or most
>> of the grading would also help. Online courses may also help as they
>> might be a way to monitor the rigor by national standards which might
>> start to influence on campus courses."
>> My spouse and I have talked this over. We attend national conferences
>> that deal specifically with science and laboratory education. We  
>> do our
>> best in our own courses to challenge students to go higher in Bloom's
>> Taxonomy of learning. We're wondering if, in general, too few  
>> faculty,
>> both those at 2YCs due to lack of time and financial resources or  
>> care,
>> and those at 4YC&Us due to demands to focus on bench research,  
>> have the
>> concerns we have.
>> I just came back from a SENCER conference where there is a tremendous
>> enthusiasm for educating students beyond recall or simply preparing
>> students for the next biology course, so maybe I am a little over
>> sensitive. I did not go to AIBS or BSA, and am wondering if the
>> attendance at teaching-related sessions has improved since the  
>> last time
>> I went some time ago.
>> Maybe the people who are part of Plant-ed are part of my choir (or a
>> better choir). I know how tempting it is to react negatively to  
>> some of
>> his comments, especially about tenure (which I have by the way as a
>> back-up to my administrative position). I appreciate your
>> thoughtfulness, and suggestions on how we might find out what the
>> situation is and/or should be.
>> jim
>> James W. Perry, Ph.D.
>> Campus Executive Officer and Dean
>> University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley
>> 1478 Midway Road
>> Menasha, WI 54952-1297
>> 920.832-2610 (voice)
>> 920.832-2674 (FAX)
>> http://www.fox.uwc.edu <http://www.fox.uwc.edu/>
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William E. Williams
WEWilliams at smcm.edu
Summer: c/o TC Vogelmann
Botany and Agricultural Biochemistry
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405-0086

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