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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Biology 103; Fall, 1997

Instructor: Paul Grobstein
Room 106, 526-5098,

Teaching Fellow: Jeff Oristaglio
Room 112, 526-5096,

Undergraduate Assistant: Amber Baum
Room 113, 526-5096,


Course objectives/philosophy. Biology 103 is designed to help you become familiar with the distinctive ideas, perspectives, and ways of asking and answering questions which have emerged from the scientific study of living systems. The philosophy of the course is that these ideas, perspectives, and methodologies are 1) of general human significance, accessible to everyone, and belong in the background of every educated person; 2) the current stage of a work in progress, of an ongoing process of summarizing and making sense of an ever increasing body of observations; 3) best acquired and understood by a process like that of science itself: a continuous, cooperative, and recursive acquisition of observations, summarization of observations, and generation of questions which in turn motivate new observations. Hence, Biology 103 is not intended as a "typical" science course, one in which the primary concern is to efficiently outline a body of facts which students are expected to learn. You will instead be invited to listen to, read about, and work through in your own mind a consideration of unifying concepts in biology, and to yourself contribute to the ongoing discussion of the relationship between observations and ideas in biology. The course is predicated on the belief that the experience of you making biology make sense to yourself is the most valuable thing you can take from this course, as well as the most effective way to be sure that you get from this course what you wish to learn about biology.

Depending on your prior experiences with science (and other) courses, Biology 103 may or may not require some modification of your study habits. You will not find it generally useful to simply make lists of points and try to memorize them. Instead, you should think over what you have heard or read, not once but several times. The first go-through should be an uncritical characterization of what the material was generally about and its relation to anything else you know. The second go-through should include an effort to distinguish observations and ideas (including an analysis of which are new to you), and a characterization of the relations among them for the particular material at hand. Subsequent run-throughs should bring you at least to the point where you understand why the material was presented as it was, and where you could, entirely in your own words, duplicate the material in terms of its organization. For any material in which you are particularly interested, you are, of course, encouraged to move beyond this point to both criticism and improvement.

Such a thinking through of material is greatly facilitated by comparing and contrasting it with treatments of similar material looked at from other perspectives as well as by talking with other people, and Biology 103 is organized to encourage you to do these things as well.

Course organization. The course includes three lecture/discussion sessions (MWF, 11 a.m. to noon) and one afternoon laboratory session each week (Tuesday or Thursday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.). These sessions (see Course Schedule) define the core content of the course. To fully think through this material, however, you will need to supplement it with readings from the reference textbook for this course (Biology, by Audesirk and Audesirk, 4th edition), which you should purchase from the bookstore. You will want to spend some time as well with supplementary readings of your choice, as well as in exploration of resources available on the World Wide Web (some starting points are provided at, and in conversations with your course colleagues (a forum for electronic conversation is available at and others. The more perspectives you expose yourself to and interact with, the greater will become your sophistication in understanding biological systems.

Course requirements. In addition to active participation in lecture/discussion and laboratory sessions, you will be responsible for two midterm examinations and a final examination, all in a take-home format (see Course Schedule for dates). You will also have to write three short papers (four pages or less) based on laboratory sessions. Two of these will be lab reports (reports of observations and interpretations), and the third an independent project reflecting your exploration of WWW materials relevant to a question in biology of interest to you. Effective communication is fundamental to science, and you will be expected to develop and display the needed writing skills in these papers. Weekly brief contributions to the electronic course forum will further help you sharpen your communications skills as well as help the instructors to assess course progress.

Laboratories. These sessions are intended to provide you with experience in the collection and summarization of observations in ways that generate new questions, and in the sharing of observations and interpretations among investigators and groups of investigators. A typical session will consist of small teams of students collecting relevant observations in response to questions and materials made available by your instructors, a period for analysis and summarization of the observations, and a reporting period in which teams will orally present their findings for general critique and discussion. Each student will also be required to prepare two written reports, from their choice of any one of the labs in the first and in the second half of the course. Time will also be made available during lab sessions for independent projects collecting information from the WWW on a topic chosen by the student, and a third written paper will be required based on this work. Time in laboratory sessions will also be used for review of, and to answer questions on, material from the course in general.

Examinations. Consistent with the philosophy of this course, examinations will be in a short answer and short essay format, and structured to require you to display an appreciation for the relations between observations and ideas. You will not be asked for particular facts, but will be expected to demonstrate in your answers the kind of concern for concrete observations which is fundamental to scientific discourse. A typical question might, for example, ask what particular observations would support a particular conclusion. Such a question could be answered in terms of observations discussed in a lecture/discussion or laboratory session, but could equally well be answered by clear descriptions of relevant observations gained from your readings or elsewhere.

Grading. Examinations and papers will be evaluated on a 100 point scale, in which 70 points corresponds to an adequate performance, 80 points to a stronger performance, and 90 points to a performance which in some way substantially exceeds expectations for that assignment. Final grades will be calculated by combining scores on all written work, with an adjustment for class participation in cases where this performance appears markedly different from that indicated by written work. In calculating a final score, scores on the three laboratory papers and the two midterm examinations will each receive equal weight, with the final exam weighted at twice that value. Final scores in the vicinity of 90 and above translate into grades of 4.0, those in the vicinity of 75 and above into grades of 3.0, those in the vicinity of 60 and above into grades of 2.0, and those in the vicinity of 50 and above into grades of 1.0. Final scores need to be above 50 to pass the course. Diversity is fundamental to biological systems at all levels of organization (including that of human societies). It follows necessarily from this that no single measure can adequately reflect the distinctive efforts and achievements of any individual taking a given course, nor can your grade in any given course by taken as an adequate indicator of your performance in other contexts. You should therefore always regard your scores as only one measure of your performance, taking into account as well your distinctive objectives and your own sense of what you have achieved in relation to them. Should you have questions about the significance of your scores in relation to personal progress or career objectives, your instructors would be happy to discuss these with you (as well as to provide to others whatever information they have which extends that available from your course grade) . Extended discussion of the legitimacy of particular scores is, however, generally unproductive and detracts from the broad perspective on life and its challenges which this course is intended to encourage.

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