[Plant-education] The state of higher education

Catharina Coenen catharina.coenen at allegheny.edu
Mon Aug 15 11:22:16 EST 2005

I suspect Bill is right:  Those of us doing investigative labs may have 
left the lab manual market altogether.  We, too, gave up on commercial lab 
manuals for our introductory lab course many years ago.

Here are my thoughts on what "manual" I would like to buy for our course, 
if it were available:

I would like to be able to select "chapters" from a large online "library" 
made available by a publisher.  They should include chapters on literature 
searching and writing of primary research papers (we are currently using 
McMillan's "Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences" as the only required 
text for the course), and a broad selection of very basic and more advanced 
lab procedures (A "baby" version of Barker's "At the Bench" might be a good 
start).  Having a variety of protocols for using common lab organisms would 
also be a welcome addition.

The best investigative exercises tend to grow out of faculty interests -- 
the magic "ingredient" for getting students into their investigative work 
seems to be faculty enthusiasm for student-generated questions.  Choosing 
the theoretical framework for student experiments so that it keeps the 
teacher alive and genuinely curious in the classroom may not be achievable 
with any given selection of pre-fab investigative labs.


At 10:37 PM 8/13/2005 -0500, you wrote:
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>Dear Members of Plant-ed:<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = 
>"urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
>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.
>James W. Perry, Ph.D.
>Campus Executive Officer and Dean
>University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley
><?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = 
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>Menasha, WI 54952-1297
>920.832-2610 (voice)
>920.832-2674 (FAX)
>Plant-ed mailing list
>Plant-ed at net.bio.net

Dr. Catharina Coenen            office: Steffee Hall B219
Biology Department                      phone: (814) 332-2703
Allegheny College                       FAX:    (814) 332-2789
Meadville, PA 16335                     e-mail: ccoenen at allegheny.edu
Spring '05 Office Hours:                We   1:30  pm  -  4:30 pm
                                         Fr     9:00  am  -  12:00 noon
                                         and by appointment
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