ERIC Number: EJ1085565
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2005
Points of View: A Survey of Survey Courses--Are They Effective? A Unique Approach? Four Semesters of Biology Core Curriculum
Batzli, Janet M.
Cell Biology Education, v4 n2 p125-128 Sum 2005
''Why four semesters? How does this track differ from the two-semester course sequence?'' These are the most common questions students have when they learn about the Biology Core Curriculum (Biocore), a unique four-semester honors biology sequence at University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison). Biocore was first taught at University of Wisconsin in 1967. At the time, it was felt by many administrators and faculty that the teaching of biology at the undergraduate level lagged behind the rapid advances in our knowledge of biological systems and that the curriculum was constrained by departmental boundaries, compartmentalized as either animal or plant based and taught as such in the Departments of Zoology or Botany. A group of faculty recommended that a core curriculum be established that was bolstered by courses in mathematics and the physical sciences. What the UW-Madison faculty developed was a challenging, four-semester honors course sequence intended for students who plan to go on to graduate or professional school. One main focus for the new curriculum was a laboratory progression where students could experience and develop their understanding of the process of science firsthand. Key to the program's success was the enthusiastic backing by the deans of the major colleges and the chancellor of the university. Elements that have been crucial to the program's success (or staying power) are: (1) strong advocates in higher university administration; (2) a dedicated and enthusiastic group of volunteer faculty who not only are outstanding scientists but are eager to experiment with their teaching; (3) program autonomy, such that the reporting and funding lines are independent from a department; (4) the same permanent academic staff in lab through three semesters, providing continuity and high standards for continuous intellectual development of students; and (5) a small and responsive program staff that can quickly help adjust curriculum as knowledge in the field advances. This last point is very important, because integration and innovation require frequent communication among faculty, teaching assistants, and program coordinators. The courses are team-taught by faculty drawn from all over the campus. Typically, three faculty members participate in each course, attend each other's lectures, and meet regularly to plan and develop course materials. Each course is coordinated and led by one of the participating faculty, the course chair. Course chairs of all seven courses (four lectures and three labs) meet monthly to help maintain continuity, problem-solve, and develop new initiatives.
Descriptors: Biology, Introductory Courses, College Science, Core Curriculum, Undergraduate Study, Science Instruction, Instructional Effectiveness
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Wisconsin
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A