Breakthrough in the way biology is taught in college

Prof. Anthony DePass
Photo Credit: Long Island University

The way students are taught biology in college is about to take a 180-degree turn. Multiple-choice tests, huge lecture halls and heavy memorization are expected to take a backseat to in-depth evaluation, smaller class sizes and innovative lessons that emphasize logic and critical thinking.

So say the authors of a groundbreaking report on undergraduate biology education that was just released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The study, “Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action” takes a major step toward modernizing biology education at universities across the United States, incorporating the latest advances in medicine, alternative energy sources and a fresh understanding of the behavioral and social sciences.

“The study provides an alternative to the encyclopedic approach to learning biology,” said Anthony DePass, a biology professor at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus and one of the lead authors of the report.

“We shouldn’t be relying on cramming in facts in an attempt to broaden knowledge,” added DePass, who is also the assistant vice president for research development at the University.

The report, funded by the National Science Foundation with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, comes in response to an overall concern among undergraduate students that their biology classes need to be more challenging and involve real-world research. It recommends student-centered learning, which should include effective and timely feedback on their progress.

Three years in the making, the study began with a series of seven regional meetings that included some 200 leading biology faculty and administrators from across the country. A 2009 conference in Washington, D.C., followed, with 500 professors, administrators, students and representatives of scientific societies participating, and focus groups were conducted with more than 200 biology students.

A team of co-authors was then chosen to draft a final report that addressed several areas related to structure and implementation of the proposed “vision and change” in biology. The result was a publication filled with guidelines for innovative courses and materials to engage all students, not just biology majors, with important concepts that will prepare them to work and participate in an increasingly scientific and technological society.

The Brooklyn Campus is distinguished by dynamic curricula reflecting the great urban community it serves. Distinctive programs encompass the arts and media, the natural sciences, business, social policy, urban education, the health professions and pharmacy, and include the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, the Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics, the D.P.T. in Physical Therapy and the Pharm.D. in Pharmacy.

A vibrant urban oasis in downtown Brooklyn, this diverse and thriving campus offers academic excellence, personalized attention, small class size and flexible course schedules. In 2006, a $45-million Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center was opened to serve the Campus and the surrounding community. In 2007, the Cyber Café was launched, providing a high-tech hot spot for students and faculty members to meet and eat.

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