Introductory biology courses are often the last academic exposure nonscience majors at U.S. colleges have to science. Unfortunately, say science educators, the courses too often leave a bad taste in the mouths of students who spend more time in lectures than on experiential learning and in regurgitating facts rather than understanding the concepts behind them. As voters, those graduates apply their misconceptions of science to shape national policies on everything from evolution to stem cell research.
Okay, I’ll accept those premises, but I disagree with the conclusion:
So improving introductory biology is seen as a critical step toward raising the nation's scientific literacy.
Sigh. Don’t waste your time.
If the goal is to give university students a wide view of scientific knowledge that will make them better and more informed citizens, then make courses that do that.
Instead of bemoaning that many university students only take one science course in their first year and trying to sex up that one class, do something different. Change the curriculum so that all students take an integrative capstone class in science in their last year of study. Require them to take more science classes; make students take not just an introductory class, but an advanced class.
I’m not saying this would be easy. I know full well how constrained the degree plans at many institutions are.
But introductory courses cannot, and should not, bear the weight of the whole broad academic fields. Introductory courses are meant to provide students with an introduction to a particular discipline. A single general biology courses is not going to create an informed and scientifically literate citizenry who also appreciates chemistry, physics, social sciences, and mathematics, and so on.
Nobody would ever say, “We want the general public to have a better appreciation of design and art and craft, so let’s really pump up those Gothic literature courses.” Not that there’s anything wrong with Gothic literature, but I doubt it would greatly inform my understanding of painting or drama or sculpture or dance.
If we want university graduates to have advanced knowledge in an area, they must take advanced classes.