MAJOR CHANGES IN RESEARCH COMPEL MAJOR CHANGES IN UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION
The ways in which we think about and pursue research in biology1 are changing rapidly. In the past decade, powerful innovations—including recombinant DNA, instrumentation, and the digital revolution—have altered fundamentally the ways in which biology is done. Biologists are increasingly intrigued by the challenges of deciphering how components such as molecules, cells, or organisms interact to produce higher-order structures and properties. They are studying the ways in which molecules can affect cells, or ways in which cells can affect organ systems, or how individual organisms affect populations and ecosystems. At all levels of biological organization, the elucidation and understanding of integrated systems are moving to center stage.
The elucidation of the sequence of the human genome is one of the remarkable fruits of this confluence. Knowledge of diverse genomes, from bacteria to worms to flies to humans, is revealing recurring motifs and mechanisms, and strengthening an appreciation for the fundamental unity of life. Biological concepts, models, and theories are becoming more quan-
titative, and the connections between the life and physical sciences are becoming deeper and stronger. As a result, the predictive power of biology is also increasing swiftly.
How biological research is carried out is changing rapidly, too. Biologists increasingly do their work using sophisticated instrumentation that is rooted in the physical sciences. For example, synchrotron x-ray sources are used to determine three-dimensional structures of proteins. Focused laser beams allow manipulations of single molecules. Functional magnetic resonance imagers map activated regions of the brain. Highly parallel data acquisition, such as the use of simultaneous measurement of the expression levels of tens of thousands of genes in DNA arrays, has become commonplace. Computers now play a central role in the acquisition, storage, analysis, interpretation, and visualization of vast quantities of biological data.
Modern biology is becoming more dependent on the physical sciences (chemistry and physics) and engineering in multiple ways. First, as the analysis of biological systems advances at the cellular and molecular levels, the distinction between the physical and biological sciences blurs, and essential biological processes are most fruitfully treated in terms of their physical properties. Second, as biologists deal with systems at a higher level of complexity, theoretical tools from other fields increasingly are required to deal with the many simultaneously interacting components of such complex systems. For example, exocytosis and endocytosis are basic processes common to all cells; they are ultimately understood in terms of the physical chemistry of membrane fusion and fission. Another pertinent example is the study of genetic networks responsible for developmental processes. Here many genes interact combinatorially in positive and negative regulatory pathways to generate the spatial and temporal patterns exhibited in the adult organism. Understanding development requires theories of how these patterns form; physics, mathematics, and engineering provide advanced tools for formulating and testing such theories.
The ways in which scientists communicate and interact are undergoing equally rapid and dramatic transformations. Data and software are shared extensively over the Internet. Different kinds of data (e.g., genes with the corresponding diseases in the database Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man, available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/omim) are becoming linked. Investigators throughout the world query vast databases (e.g., Genbank, available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Genbank/GenbankOverview.html) daily to design and interpret experiments. Many laboratories host highly informative Web sites, which complement their published
papers. Investigators collaborate easily over large distances thanks to the Internet. Some of the most important problems in biology (e.g., the Human Genome Project) are now being tackled by dispersed teams of investigators working in concert. New kinds of scientific communities are emerging.
EVIDENCE THAT INTERDISCIPLINARY EDUCATION IS NECESSARY
The recent report entitled The Role of the Private Sector in Training the Next Generation of Biomedical Scientists concludes “In the postgenomic era of research, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research will command center stage, requiring team approaches and the collaboration of many individuals from vastly different fields, ranging from computational mathematics to clinical science” (American Cancer Society et al., 2000). The same report also states “The changing paradigm of research calls for innovations and changes in the education of scientists along the spectrum of K-12, undergraduate and graduate education.” This is one of many calls to improve interdisciplinary education. A recent NRC report, Addressing the Nation’s Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists, recommends, “The NIH should expand its emphasis on multidisciplinary training in the basic biomedical sciences” (NRC, 2000a).
Numerous studies and workshops have addressed the growing research at the intersection of biology with other disciplines, further supporting the need for more interdisciplinary education. The NRC study Strengthening the Linkages Between the Sciences and Mathematical Sciences was published in 2000 (NRC, 2000c) and the report Frontiers at the Interface of Computing and Biology is nearing completion (NRC, unpublished report, 2002). The NRC has held workshops on interdisciplinary topics, including “Workshop on the Interface of Engineering and Biology: Catalyzing the Future; Bioinformatics: Converting Data to Knowledge.” “Dynamical Modeling of Complex Biomedical Systems” was convened by the Board on Mathematical Sciences in 2001. Other recent NRC studies illustrate the wideranging applications of biology.2
Already, multidisciplinary projects are emphasized in solicitations for research grants. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and NIH work together on joint initiatives to support collaborative research in several areas, including computational neuroscience and research in mathematics and statistics related to mathematical biology research (National Institute of General Medical Sciences and National Science Foundation, http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2002/nsf02125/nsf02125.htm). The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has several initiatives to promote quantitative, interdisciplinary approaches to problems of biomedical significance, particularly those that involve the complex, interactive behavior of many components. For example, the Protein Structure Initiative supports the creation of partnerships such as the Berkeley Structural Genomics Center, run by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in partnership with the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Another initiative, the Biomedical Information Science and Technology Initiative, is at an earlier stage of development, but was set up to encourage the optimal use of computer science and technology to address problems in biology and medicine. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has supplemental funds available for principal investigators who want to develop and incorporate computational and theoretical modeling approaches into existing research projects. NIDA-funded researchers studying behavioral, cognitive, and neurobiological processes, and cellular and molecular mechanisms of drug abuse and addiction, are eligible for this supplemental funding. It is anticipated that funds will be used to bring state-of-the-art computational and theoretical modeling approaches to the analysis of ongoing research projects. In 2000, NIH established the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which, among other activities, works with other institutes to provide funding under a Bioengineering Research Partnership program. This interdisciplinary focus is not limited to biology in the biomedical realm; for example, the NSF initiative BioComplexity in the Environment is designed for large teams with members who come from different disciplines as well as different institutions.
To successfully participate in the interdisciplinary research of the fu-
ture, biomedical scientists must be well versed in scientific topics beyond the range of traditional biology. Beginning exposure to these topics early is one key to educating biomedical researchers who deal easily with interdisciplinary research projects. Some graduate students are currently studying in this way, but many are not. Interdisciplinary education is even less common at the undergraduate level. For graduate students in biology, funding is most frequently provided by NIH, NSF, or HHMI. However, few fellowships are targeted for interdisciplinary graduate study. NSF developed the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program to meet the challenges of preparing Ph.D. scientists and engineers with the “multidisciplinary backgrounds and the technical, professional, and personal skills needed for the career demands of the future” (National Science Foundation, 2000). The Whitaker Foundation offers Graduate Fellowships in Biomedical Engineering and has also provided funding to stimulate the creation of new departments or programs in biomedical engineering throughout the country. The Burroughs Wellcome Foundation offers Bridging Support for Physical/Computational Scientists Entering Biology and, in the past, supported a program for universities called Institutional Awards at the Scientific Interface that funded the development of interdisciplinary training programs for graduate and postdoctoral students.
RESEARCH ON EDUCATION CAN BENEFIT THE TEACHING OF UNDERGRADUATE BIOLOGY
The ways in which students are taught and learn biology are as important as the content of the material covered. The large lecture courses that are still the usual format for lower-division science classes often fail to keep the attention of some students. Recent research in education has validated several important insights into optimal conditions for student learning, as summarized, for example, in the NRC Report How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (NRC, 1999a). The report was written by a committee that included cognitive scientists, psychologists, and experts in research on education. The key findings of How People Learn were that:
Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for the purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.
To develop confidence in an area of inquiry, students must (a) have a deep
foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
A “metacognitive”3 approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.
One chapter of How People Learn describes how experts differ from novices. For example, it compares the different approaches to problem solving typically seen in a physicist and an undergraduate studying introductory physics. When asked to sort a pile of index cards containing questions, the physicists organized the cards based on concepts (such as Newton’s second law) that would be used to determine the solution to the problem. The beginning student more often sorted the cards based on the objects involved in the problem (such as a spring or an inclined plane) (NRC, 1999a).
These insights in turn have become the basis for widespread efforts to reform the way that science in particular is taught, from elementary school through college. For the undergraduate level, in 1977 the NRC published a useful and practical handbook on teaching undergraduate science, Science Teaching Reconsidered (NRC, 1997b). It explains how student misconceptions can interfere with learning, how to evaluate teaching (assessment) and learning (exams), and how to choose instructional material. Numerous other resources are available to guide faculty in their teaching. One example, Gordon Uno’s Handbook on Teaching Undergraduate Science Courses: A Survival Training Manual, discusses topics ranging from lecturing to organizing and assessing, and is especially helpful for new faculty (Uno, 1997). Several journals also publish information on science education. The Journal of College Science Teaching is published by the National Science Teachers Association and The American Biology Teacher is published by the National Association of Biology Teachers. More general information on teaching and education can be found in The Chronicle of Higher Education and the book Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis. Books are also available to assist faculty in changing their teaching approach. Student-Active Science: Models of Innovation in College Science Teaching (McNeal and D’Avanzo,
Metacognition is the process of thinking about thoughts, for example being aware of how people think and learn. It can be thought of as a three-step process: developing a plan of action, monitoring the plan, and evaluating the plan. A concise explanation of one way to do this can be found at http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/students/learning/lr1metn.htm.
1997) contains numerous examples of designing new courses, pathways to change, and methods for assessment. Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual (Mazur, 1997) focuses on physics teaching, but contains descriptions of its primary approach for engaging students (the ConcepTest) and ideas for motivating students. The Hidden Curriculum: Faculty-Made Tests in Science (Tobias and Raphael, 1977) presents additional ideas for varying the lecture approach to teaching. The Proceedings of the 1999 Sigma Xi Forum present ideas for inquiry-based teaching, specifically addressing its use in large classrooms (Sigma Xi, 2000). Several Web sites list other resources that may be helpful: www.academicinfo.net/biologyed.html and www.mcb.harvard.edu/BioLinks/EduRes.html. There are also resources for faculty available on their own campuses, such as centers for teaching and learning or centers of teaching excellence.
An increasing number of today’s college faculty recognize the significance of the research findings discussed in How People Learn and incorporate inquiry-based teaching and learning into their courses. The main idea of inquiry is for students to learn in the same way that scientists learn through research. Scientists ask questions, make observations, take measurements, analyze data, and repeat this process in an attempt to integrate new information. Students should be taught the way scientists think about the world, and how they analyze a scientific problem in particular. Inquiry advocates the use of this process for teaching in the classroom, lab, or field. Some essential features of classroom inquiry (use of evidence, framing of scientific questions, etc.) are listed in the NRC report Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 2000c). Although this report is written for elementary and high school science teachers, it contains good ideas for undergraduate faculty as well. The National Science Teachers Association has published a guide for faculty on how to use the ideas of the science education standards in the college classroom to increase student-centered and inquiry-based learning (Siebert and McIntosh, 2001). The NRC has plans to publish a volume focusing on inquiry in the undergraduate classroom through its Committee on Undergraduate Science Education Web site.
Inquiry-Based Learning via Undergraduate Research
Many of today’s researchers were drawn to the excitement of biology by a mentor. Often that mentor was a faculty member who supervised an undergraduate laboratory project. For example, Mary Allen, the Jean Glasscock Professor of Biological Sciences and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Wellesley, said:
I was an undergraduate studying chemistry at a large research university when I discovered, through a summer of mentored research, that I truly loved the excitement of discovering something new through research. I spent a summer driving around the state of Wisconsin in a University van, collecting large volumes of lake water, then taking them back to the lab and analyzing them and trying to get microbes to grow in them. It was a totally different, and a much more engaging experience, than sitting in lectures with 500 students and going to labs where I followed a cookbook method with some 24 other students. In doing research as an undergraduate, instead of only receiving information, I was engaged actively in the discovery and production of new knowledge, making an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline, and I loved it! (Distinguished Faculty Lecture, September 2000).
Participation in research by all students is a goal to which institutions should aspire. Research gives students a sense of empowerment over a body of knowledge and instills in them the confidence to succeed. This empowerment stems in large part from the intense professional relationship that develops between students and faculty mentors. Mentors and students share in the ownership of research in a manner that promotes mutual growth and learning in a relationship that grows and intensifies over time. It is evident from many quarters that such students develop a sustaining relationship with their faculty mentor, have strongly enriched and productive research experiences, and usually assume leadership roles in their research groups and departments as they progress toward graduation. Furthermore, the mentoring relationship that is established between a student and a faculty member is particularly effective at affirming the integration of that student into the culture of science. The highly significant benefits of undergraduate research are discussed further in Chapter 5.
While many institutions work hard to include all rising seniors in research programs, there is also a history of success with moving talented students into the laboratory at an early stage of their academic career. The committee believes that such relationships are important for all students and would be particularly meaningful for young women and students of color as they begin their journey into research and advanced science courses.
This is not a new idea, but is stressed in the belief that it has continuing relevance in today’s colleges and universities. Numerous groups have already devoted considerable effort to promoting undergraduate research. The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) declares as its mission “to support and promote high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship” (http://www.cur.org/). CUR focuses on primarily undergraduate institutions. A recent report by the Research Corporation examines the role of research in the physical sciences at undergraduate institutions; it documents model programs and discusses financial support for that research (Research Corporation and Doyle, 2000).
However, in spite of the overwhelming circumstantial evidence and broad-based agreement that undergraduate research is good pedagogy, the educational value of undergraduate research for students, and the impact of undergraduate research on faculty development as scholars and educators, has not been assessed in a systematic and intensive way. The Research Corporation report mentioned above, Academic Excellence, does examine such issues; in addition, another study in progress attempts to assess the value of undergraduate research (See Case Study #1).
Throughout this report, case studies are presented to elaborate on the ideas presented in the main text. The case studies are brief examples that provide more detail on a specific course, program, or approach as well as a source for further information. Information for the case studies came from committee members, panel members, and workshop speakers, as well as resources they cited and recommendations from HHMI and Project Kaleidoscope. In some cases, additional information was obtained from program directors or institutional Web sites.
Inquiry-Based Learning via Laboratory Courses
Many schools have trouble finding the resources to offer these types of experiences to all students. A host of infrastructure limitations, combined with an overwhelming number of biology students, restrict the number of students who can have opportunities for research experiences with independent work, at least early in their undergraduate careers. Institutions should be creative in finding ways to provide opportunities for research to all students. One way to share the excitement of biology with students is to replicate the idea of independent work within the context of courses by incorporating inquiry-based learning, project labs, and group assignments. The importance of a direct connection between teacher and student is not
CASE STUDY #1
The results from this in-depth study will, hopefully, improve understanding of the impact that undergraduate research has on student learning and on development of faculty into teacher-scholars. Four liberal arts colleges have come together to assess their own undergraduate research programs in order to provide a database that will be useful not only for the further development of their own programs, but also to fuel an understanding of undergraduate research at other institutions. Grinnell College (IA), Harvey Mudd College (CA), Hope College (MI), and Wellesley College (MA) are all recognized by the NSF as leaders in undergraduate research. These institutions are among only 10 liberal arts institutions that received a 1999 NSF Award for the Integration of Research and Education. The assessment is being conducted using a grant provided by the NSF-ROLE (Research on Learning and Education) program. The study is both quantitative (through an in-depth questionnaire filled out by each student researcher) and qualitative (each student researcher at each institution will have undergone at least two or three confidential interviews during the assessment period). Student researchers are providing input on research activities from both the summer and the academic year, and on the impact of their research experiences on their individual career paths following graduation. Faculty members from these institutions are also participating. It is anticipated that the information gleaned from the faculty will provide a unique perspective on faculty career development as teacher-scholars and the effect that research collaborations with undergraduates have on that development.
The study is currently in Year 2 of a three-year effort, and the data for the initial two years of the assessment period are currently being analyzed in detail. The outcomes from this study will be disseminated in 2003. It is of importance not only because of the issues that it seeks to address in understanding the impact of undergraduate research, but also because it focuses directly upon the important issue of assessment of educational endeavors.
For more information: https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/servlet/showaward?award=0087611
a new idea. It has been used in teaching for ages. However, it can be “discovered” as new by successive generations of teachers. In the preface of The Feynman Lectures on Physics, published in 1963, Richard Feynman discussed his experiences teaching introductory physics at the California Institute of Technology (Feynman et al., 1963). He taught 180 students in a large lecture hall. He struggled with how to reach students of varied backgrounds and abilities with the low level of feedback a faculty member receives from students in a large lecture. He concluded,
there isn’t any solution to this problem of education other than to realize that the best teaching can only be done when there is a direct individual relationship between a student and a good teacher—a situation in which the student discusses the ideas, thinks about things, and talks about the things. It’s impossible to learn very much simply by sitting in a lecture, or even by simply doing the problems that are assigned. But in our modern times we have so many students to teach that we have to try to find some substitute for the ideal.
Drawing from Feynman’s observations, this report attempts to provide guidance on more than just what “things” to think about and talk about, but also how to encourage students to do that thinking and talking and learning.
Studies and Reports on Inquiry-Based Learning
A study sponsored by the National Institute for Science Education in Madison, Wisconsin, found small group cooperative learning had a large positive effect on students’ comprehension (O’Donnell et al., 1997). A 1995 convocation held by the NSF and the NRC, From Analysis to Action (NRC, 1996), stressed the need for inquiry-based approaches to the teaching of introductory science courses. In 1998, the Boyer Commission released a report, Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities (Kenny and Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, 1998), which looked at all disciplines, not just the sciences. Their recommendations focused on making learning more research-focused, creating opportunities for interdisciplinary learning, and providing capstone experiences for seniors to help them integrate the knowledge they have gained throughout their college career. The NRC report Transforming Undergraduate Education suggests that these kinds of courses can also be very useful in the early years of college to help students see the relationships between different sets of knowledge so that
they better understand why they need to take courses in subject areas that may at first seem indirectly related to their majors (NRC, 1999b).
In the early 1990s, a network of professional societies in biology set out to increase the attention paid to undergraduate education. Efforts by the Coalition for Education in the Life Sciences (CELS) led to the publication of a curricular framework for introductory biology. Issues-Based Framework for Bio 101 (Coalition for Education in the Life Sciences, 1992) called for all students to receive an education in overarching issues in biology in the belief that this education is necessary to prepare them to participate fully in society. The group also published a monograph entitled Professional Societies and the Faculty Scholar: Promoting Scholarship and Learning in the Life Sciences (Coalition for Education in the Life Sciences, 1998). This monograph addresses issues of faculty development, including the way that “faculty find both cooperation and competition from many sources in their commitment to teaching.” The cooperation or competition can come from within the department or professional society, from grant proposals to funding agencies, or from publications on education. The publication advocates that professional societies learn from each other and work together to promote the production and dissemination of educational materials and argues effectively that professional societies must play a leadership role in promoting faculty development. A 1999 report from the NRC, Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology (NRC, 1999b), addresses many of the larger institutional issues that must be solved to truly improve undergraduate science education. It calls for “post-secondary institutions to provide the rewards, recognition, resources, tools and infrastructure necessary to promote innovative and effective undergraduate science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) teaching and learning” and provides strategies for achieving that goal.
This report builds on many aspects of these earlier works to offer an analysis of appropriate topics in each scientific discipline that have relevance to biology students. It proposes a variety of ways to improve interdisciplinary scientific education for future biomedical researchers. It provides guidance for faculty on ways to incorporate chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, and engineering into the undergraduate education of future biomedical researchers. Assessment measures must be an integral component of all attempts at curriculum reform, and, importantly, for the educational reforms identified and recommended in this report.
Recent changes in the practice of biological research and knowledge
gained from education research are not adequately reflected in today’s undergraduate biology classroom. Significant changes are necessary to prepare students to become biomedical researchers of the future. This report lays out a plan to transform undergraduate education in biology. Implementation of this plan will require more than tinkering around at the edges of the current system. It will require a dramatic change in the priority given to professional development for faculty. For it to succeed, faculty must engage themselves in a learning process to gain the skills and knowledge that will help their students learn. More importantly, college and university administrators must actively support faculty in these endeavors. Administrators must help faculty obtain the time and money to prepare and implement new ways of teaching science. However, even large increases in the time and money devoted to educational reform will not have an optimal impact if the academic culture does not begin to give a higher priority to education. Evidence given throughout this report supports the idea that interdisciplinary education is in the best interests of both undergraduates and their professors, and that science faculty should take responsibility for ensuring that their teaching is of the highest quality possible.
The committee also hopes that this report will stimulate institutions to carry out a comprehensive review of the educational experiences of undergraduate life science majors. These experiences include learning inside and outside of the classroom, the content covered, and the way in which it is taught. The report calls for colleges and universities to be more attentive to how their policies create incentives for faculty behavior that may encourage or discourage attention to teaching. Increasing the incentives for faculty to devote attention to teaching is necessary to facilitate ongoing efforts to provide a quality education for undergraduates. However, increased attention to teaching alone will not be enough; faculty must also have access to teaching resources and experts with knowledge of appropriate educational approaches.
STATISTICS ON BIOLOGY STUDENTS
This report focuses on preparing biomedical researchers, while recognizing that there are many other career options for biology students. NSF’s Science and Engineering Indicators (National Science Foundation and National Science Board, 2000) predicts that the number of jobs for biological and medical scientists will grow from 110,000 in the year 2000 to 135,000
in the year 2010. In 1998 1.2 million bachelor’s degrees were awarded in the United States, and 85,079 (7.1%) of those students majored in the life sciences (National Science Foundation and National Science Board, 2000). Comparison of the number of jobs and the number of majors reveals that most biology majors do not enter research as a career. However, surveys done in 1995-1996 showed that only 6% of life science graduates expected their bachelor’s degree to be the end of their formal education. Thirty-eight percent planned to obtain masters, 29% doctorates, and 27% professional degrees. In the late 1990s, approximately 6,500 PhDs in the life sciences were granted each year. Among entering college students in the fall of 2001, 7% planned to major in a biological science (University of California et al., 2001). Only 2% of freshmen listed scientific researcher or college teacher as a probable career, 6% said physician, and almost 15% listed undecided.
Entering students encountered faculty who spent 57% of their time on teaching-related activities and 15% on research, although at research or doctoral institutions, and among full professors the amount of time devoted to teaching was lower (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). In the natural sciences approximately 86% of faculty reported lecturing as their primary method of instruction (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Revised teaching approaches that appeal more to students may encourage more talented undergraduates to consider scientific careers.
ORIGIN OF BIO2010
In October 2000, the Board on Life Sciences of the National Research Council initiated this study, Undergraduate Biology Education to Prepare Research Scientists for the 21st Century. The idea for the study emerged from discussions between Dr. Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences, and officials at NIH and HHMI who were concerned about the undergraduate education of future researchers. Over the past decade, both organizations had observed increases in the amount of expertise in mathematics and the physical and information sciences required for biomedical research. NIH and HHMI committed to funding Bio2010, as this study came to be known, to examine ways of strengthening the chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, and computer science background of undergraduate biology majors in ways that would enable these students to make stronger interdisciplinary connections in their future research.
The Committee on Undergraduate Biology Education to Prepare Research Scientists for the 21st Century (Bio2010) was charged with examining the formal undergraduate education, training, and experience required to prepare the next generation of life science majors with a particular emphasis on the preparation of students for careers in biomedical research. Another fundamental goal of the project was to identify the basic skills and concepts of mathematics, chemistry, physics, computer science, and engineering that will assist students in making novel interdisciplinary connections. The complete formal charge to the committee can be found in Appendix A. The Bio2010 committee was asked to produce an innovative and realizable action plan for modifying undergraduate biology education so that life science majors can begin their research careers better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the next decade and beyond. Because the life sciences are so broadly defined, and because at the undergraduate level, it is difficult to separate those students who will become biomedical researchers from their classmates who will pursue a multitude of other career paths, the committee also considered the needs of students in other life science disciplines during their discussions. The Committee was asked, in considering the undergraduate biology education of future research scientists, to “emphasize preparing students for biomedical research” and to also evaluate “how preparation should be similar or different for other life science disciplines such as plant biology, population and evolutionary biology, and behavior and cognitive sciences.” The Committee has deliberated on this question and has concluded that the best preparation for the biomedical research of the future is a broadly based education in biology with a strong foundation in the physical sciences and mathematics. A well-educated biology major should understand the principles of population and evolutionary biology, ecology, cognitive neurobiology, and plant biology, irrespective of his or her future research area. The connections between biomedical research and other sciences will become more intimate and mutually reinforcing in the years ahead. Most compelling, the fundamental unity of biology speaks strongly against the desirability of compartmentalization too early in one’s education. The committee believes that the new biology curriculum proposed in this report will be of benefit to all future research biologists, not just those headed for biomedical research as it is known today.
The following questions guided the study:
How will biology research be conducted in the future, and how should future approaches to research inform education in the life sciences?
What fundamental skills and knowledge do undergraduates in the life sciences need to prepare them to become research scientists? How are those skills and knowledge best conveyed?
What are the fundamental concepts of mathematics, chemistry, physics, computer science, and engineering that will assist students in making interdisciplinary connections?
To what extent can these interdisciplinary skills and knowledge be taught in the context of central issues in biology? Should these skills and concepts be acquired through a restructuring of biology courses or through a broadening of the content and structure of courses in mathematics, chemistry, and physics?
To the extent that portions of the desired curriculum are better treated in academic departments outside the life sciences, what are the best practices for collaborating with faculty in those departments to achieve mutually agreeable goals? What institutional barriers to collaboration exist and how have they been addressed in successful cases of curricular change? What incentives exist or might be created to overcome barriers to change?
What innovative programs for teaching life science majors have been developed, and what can be learned from those programs?
Expertise of the Committee and Content Panels
An 11-member committee composed of leading scientists and educators in biology, the physical sciences, and mathematics undertook the study. All are practicing scientists with a strong interest and dedication to education. The committee did not include experts in learning theory and pedagogy as the charge stated that the study would focus on examples of concepts and courses that would promote interdisciplinary learning. This report is the result of a two-year process that they directed. Many of the ideas and recommendations presented here reinforce and build upon material from earlier reports by the NRC and others, particularly the ideas of mechanisms for improving undergraduate science education. In coming to the conclusions presented here, the committee began by discussing the overall state of biomedical research and undergraduate biology education. They canvassed their colleagues, educational experts, journal articles, and the Internet, gathering information on both traditional and innovative courses and curricula in undergraduate science. The committee used this informa-
tion to determine the most pressing issues for the report to address, and the types of scientists who should be invited to provide more specific input to the committee.
The committee also convened three advisory panels during the winter of 2001—in Chemistry, Physics and Engineering, and Mathematics and Computer Science—to provide expert advice on how to teach their respective disciplines to biology majors, both in biology classrooms and laboratories and in introductory courses of their respective disciplines. The panel participants were chosen from a large pool of names provided by NAS section liaisons, representatives of professional societies and educational associations, NRC staff, and others. The panel participants were also asked to recommend presenters for a workshop. The panels each consisted of seven to ten members drawn from diverse institutions of higher education and led by a Bio2010 committee member with expertise in the respective discipline (see Appendix C). They provided written accounts of their findings and recommendations to the Bio2010 Committee.
Workshop on Innovative Undergraduate Biology Education
Another important source of information and advice for the committee was the “Workshop on Innovative Undergraduate Biology Education,” which was organized by the Bio2010 Committee and held in Snowmass, Colorado, in August 2001. Participants were selected as described above for the panels. Sixteen participants from colleges, universities, foundations, and the federal government were invited to share with the Bio2010 Committee their experiences and opinions on methods for teaching undergraduate science (See Appendix G). In designing the workshop, the committee first considered the working papers prepared by the panels. They discussed the issues that had arisen during the panel meetings, looking for both similarities and differences between disciplines. They selected issues for the workshop that they wanted to learn more about. They identified individuals to invite from the large pool of suggestions already collected and solicited additional names from experts in the relevant fields under consideration. The participants in the workshop were provided with the working papers of the panels and asked to provide comments on them to the committee. They also presented material on their own educational endeavors, suggested relevant case studies, and recommended other sources of information for the committee as it completed its report.