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Interdisciplinary undergraduate education: Bio2010, curriculum reform and why ecologists should pay attention. Louis J. Gross Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics University of Tennessee. Bio2010:Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists.

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Interdisciplinary undergraduate education: Bio2010, curriculum reform and why ecologists should pay attention

Louis J. Gross

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics

University of Tennessee

bio2010 transforming undergraduate education for future research biologists
Bio2010:Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists
  • Released September 2002 by National Research Council, funded by NIH, HHMI
  • Recommendations focus on interdisciplinary needs in carrying out research in biology
  • Explicit curricula suggested that enhance physics, chemistry and quantitative training
  • Numerous reports, workshops, papers have appeared fostered by this
Bio2010 Misinterpreted? B. Alberts Science 28 November 2003; 302: 1504 (in Letters)
  • Educating Future Scientists. N. S. Sung, J. I. Gordon, G. D. Rose, E. D. Getzoff, S. J. Kron, D. Mumford, J. N. Onuchic, N. F. Scherer, D. L. Sumners, and N. J. Kopell. Science 12 September 2003; 301: 1485 (in Policy Forum)
  • Introductory Science and Mathematics Education for 21st-Century Biologists. W. Bialek and D. Botstein. Science 6 February 2004; 303: 788-790 (in Viewpoint)
  • Council on Undergraduate Research "BIO 2010" and its effect on the science curriculum at primarily undergraduate institutions: A Survey.
  • Meeting the Challenges in Emerging Areas: Education Across the Biological, Mathematical, and Computer Sciences
  • The Interface of Mathematics and Biology: Cell Biology Education Vol. 3 Number 2 Summer 2004
    • Interdisciplinarity and the Undergraduate Biology Curriculum: Finding a Balance. L. J. Gross
    • Intuition and Innumercy R. Brent
    • New Math for Biology Is the Old New Math. R Hoy
organizational responses to bio2010
Organizational Responses to Bio2010
  • National Academy of Sciences has sponsored Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education in Biology
  • NIH has linked with NSF and several mathematics organizations to produce a report on “Meeting the Challenges in Emerging Areas:Education Across the Biological, Mathematical, and Computer Sciences”
  • NSF has funded an Overview of Research University Efforts to Strengthen Connections in the Undergraduate Curriculum between the Biological and Quantitative Sciences
  • NIH has requested proposals to develop a web-based curriculum supplement for use in undergraduate general biology classes for science majors which encourages students to utilize mathematics, computational and physical science methods in solving biological problems (expected cost: $1-3M).
bio2010 unintended consequences elaine hoagland bioscience 54 381 2 may 2004
“Bio2010 and recent upswings in funding to support a biomedical undergraduate curriculum have accelerated recent historical trends to produce:

The perception that biomedicine is the only modern and important area in biology

The loss of organismal and environmental courses, of faculty expertise in these areas, and of opportunities for students to become organismal or environmental biologists.”

Bio2010: Unintended Consequences? Elaine Hoagland. BioScience 54: 381 -2. May 2004
“Does the report marginalize non-biomedical areas of biology? Many people think so.”

“Is there evidence that Bio2010 is causing a decline in environmental and whole-organism biology?”

In an informal survey conducted (by Elaine Hoagland) of members of the Council on Undergraduate Research, 14 out of 56 respondents stated that there had been a relative increase in biomedical to environmental offerings. There were 169 respondents in total - many did not answer this question.

how did this concern arise
Title of Bio2010 changed from:

Undergraduate Education to Prepare Biomedical Research Scientists to:

Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists

Perceived emphasis in Bio2010 sample curricula on cell/molecular courses over ecology/organismal biology

NIH moving from its long-standing educational role (supporting traineeships/minority research experiences) to encouraging undergraduate curricular reform

How did this concern arise?
Smaller colleges abandon environmental biology in favor of a biomedical curriculum!

Relegate ecology and evolution to applied schools of forestry and agriculture!

Collaborate to jointly fund new undergrad educational initiatives!

Encourage exposure to a variety of sub-fields for all biology students!

sauron or gentle giant
Sauron or Gentle Giant?

Is the perception of Bio2010 as anti-ecology accurate?

  • The glossy hand-out gives 5 case-studies of which two are clearly organismal, two are disease related, and one is both.
  • Bio2010 gives 12 case studies of which 3 focus on cell/biomedical, 3 on organismal, and 6 on themes which cover both.
  • The four sample curricula each include upper-division courses in molecular biology, genetics, cell and developmental biology, and ecology/evolutionary biology.
  • The report has many suggestions that are simply untenable (e.g. the Math/CS list of topics would be great for a math major!). The Committee was mostly NAS members and the report reflects their experiences with students.

I encourage you to read it carefully and come to your own conclusion.

NSF supported a survey ofResearch University Efforts to Strengthen Connections in the Undergraduate Curriculum between the Biological and Quantitative Sciences

Wendy Klatkin and Gayle Reznik, SUNY StonyBrook Reinvention Center (Draft report - June 2004)

This formally surveyed directors of undergraduate biology and carried out in-depth interviews with faculty from biology and quantitative departments at 68 of the 123 Carnegie Foundation listed research universities. There is no mention at all in the report of concerns about the biomedical/organismal dicotomy that Hoagland emphasizes in her BioScience article.

assessment of sauron vs gentle giant
Assessment of Sauron vs. Gentle Giant
  • In the proposal submitted to NIH for General Biology course modules, we argued that these should be built around organisms that entering students could relate to, rather than cells/proteins/molecular bio about which they have developed little intuition. If approved this implies there is an open attitude within NIH towards topic diversity within biology education. (Note: I already have experienced NIGMS tolerance towards organismal biology since they supported a sequence of short courses on the mathematics of biological complexity that had heavy population-level content).
the real challenge to promoting interdisciplinarity is
The real challenge to promoting interdisciplinarity is:

not enough time!

  • Schools have been pushed towards 120 hour limits on graduation requirements.
  • Reverse the move to semesters that has greatly limited the diversity of topics undergraduates have an opportunity to investigate – GO BACK TO THE QUARTER SYSTEM!
beyond bio2010
Beyond Bio2010

Our cell/molecular colleagues really need us to:

  • provide all biology students with an evolutionary perspective that simply does not appear in the sub-organism-level courses
  • show them how to do integrative science and get out of the mire of reductionism - as ecologists we deal with multiple interacting factors, combining results from numerous studies, analyzing interacting systems at multiple scales. This is exactly what is needed for whole organism physiology, pharmaco-genomics, and personalized medicine, as well as linking to economics and social systems.
institutional support for interdisciplinarity
Institutional support for Interdisciplinarity

In developing future researchers, particularly in biology, the implication of Bio2010 is that breadth of exposure to concepts from various fields should take precedence over depth. So it is past time to initiate a "back to quarters movement". At the least, discussion of such an option encourages our colleagues to acknowledge the importance of interdisciplinarity.

To encourage this even further, we might urge our institutions to place tenure at the College or University level, rather than in a Department, potentially easing the acceptance of colleagues who don't quite fit the mold of a single discipline, yet are the best educators for a future generation of researchers.

I for one hope that those within the ecological education community will use Bio2010 to foster collaborations with those at sub-organism level, and use this as an opportunity to encourage NIH/NSF to collaborate more effectively as well on the integrative requirements of undergraduate biology education. I urge that we not devote lots of energy to further dissension - such dissension will merely further lessen our impact on the broader science education agenda.
major bio2010 recommendations
Major BIO2010 Recommendations
  • Schools should reexamine current approaches to see if they meet the needs of today’s undergraduate biology students. Those selecting the new approaches should consider the importance of building a strong foundation in mathematics, and the physical and information sciences to prepare students for research that is increasingly interdisciplinary in character. This implementation should be accompanied by a process of assessment.
2. Concepts, examples, and techniques from mathematics, and the physical and information sciences should be included in biology courses, and biological concepts and examples should be included in other science courses. Faculty must work collaboratively to integrate mathematics and physical sciences into life science courses as well as providing avenues for incorporating life science examples that reflect the emerging nature of the discipline into courses taught in mathematics and physical sciences.
3. School administrators, as well as funding agencies, should support mathematics and science faculty in the development or adaptation of techniques that improve interdisciplinary education for biologists. This would include courses, modules (on biological problems suitable for study in mathematics and physical science courses and vice versa), and other teaching materials. Administrative and financial barriers to cross-departmental collaboration between faculty must be eliminated.
4. Laboratory courses should be as interdisciplinary as possible, since laboratory experiments confront students with real-world observations do not separate well into conventional disciplines
5. All students should be encouraged to pursue independent research as early as is practical in their education. They should be able to receive academic credit for independent research done in collaboration with faculty or with off-campus researchers
6. Seminar-type courses that highlight cutting-edge developments in biology should be provided on a continual and regular basis throughout the four-year undergraduate education of students. Communicating the excitement of biological research is crucial to attracting, retaining, and sustaining a greater diversity of students to the field. These courses would combine presentations by faculty with student projects on research topics.
7. Medical school admissions requirements and the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) are hindering change in the undergraduate biology curriculum and should be reexamined in light of the recommendations in this report.
8. Faculty development is a crucial component to improving undergraduate biology education. Efforts must be made on individual campuses and nationally to provide faculty the time necessary to refine their own understanding of how the integrative relationships of biology, mathematics, and the physical sciences can be best melded into either existing courses or new courses in the particular areas of science in which they teach.