Brouhaha in CA

Deirdre Sholto-Douglas finch at MCS.COM
Thu Feb 12 01:01:07 EST 1998

In bionet.women-in-bio Amanda Kesner <kesner at> wrote:

: Hey, I still learned what pKa was VERY early on in my intro bio classes.
: And, even though I was a bio major, where I went to school EVERYONE was
: required to take this class, regardless of undergraduate major.  

Different schools do things differently.  

Our first course is a survey and an introduction and it covers a
wide range of topics...chemistry, however, is *not* one of them
because it's not nice to step on the toes of the Chem department.
(We have quite enough on our hands appeasing them for the renegade
fruit flies in their offices...the price of being adjacent to the
genetics lab.)  Acid/bases, Lowry/Bronsted, Ka, Kb, etc. ad nauseaum
is part of the Chem series.  All we do is introduce the overall
concept and hand the kids off.

I'm certain there are introductory bio courses which teach more
genetics than we do, more evolution, more taxonomy and more cell
and molecular theory.  We don't need to try to cram it into one
term...each and every one of those topics has a course of its very
own where the topic is covered in mind-numbing detail. 

The purpose of this course is not to hatch biologists, but to intro-
duce fledgling scientists to the miriad of biological opportunities
available to them.  The goal is to foster make students
ask "Why?" or "How?".  It's to help them determine what path they
want to be on so they don't waste two years studying zoology only to
discover in an ecology class that their true love is population

Many students (and this is because the high schools pressure kids
into making these choices, I swear) come in saying "I want to be
a <insert field here>."  It never fails to amaze me how many, at
the end of the course, have changed their minds.  Not away from
bio, mind you, but into a different they didn't even
know existed, because as a result of a survey they found something
which fascinated them.  

I know many schools do things differently.  Around here, students
are not empty vessels to be filled and dumped into the Real World.
They aren't given the answers...they are given the tools to *find*
the answers.  And the most important tool in that arsenal is a
disciplined, inquisitive mind.  

I can't think of a single course which relies on rote learning.
Most of the exams are short answer/essay...exams based on number
cruching/equation memorisation favour those who can programme 
their calculators.  We no long ask "What?", we ask "Why?"  Many 
exams, particularly in the upper level courses, are take-home
or open book.  Many times there's no one 'right' answer...that's
not what's being tested anyway.  What's being tested is the 
ability to logically deduce and support an answer based on 
available facts.  Use your book, use the library, use your *MIND*.

Some schools graduate parrots, this one seems to graduate must be doing something right.


| Deirdre Sholto-Douglas      | e-mail:  finch at       |
|                             |                                      |
  *******  The only acceptable substitute for intelligence  *******
                            is silence.

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