Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Bio 103, Fall 2007, Web Paper Assignment

Paul Grobstein's picture
Biology 103, Fall 2007, Bryn Mawr College
Web Paper Assignment
  • Start with something you're interested in, "surf", don't be afraid to get away from your initial question. Learn something.

    The objective of this assignment is to give you the opportunity to explore/learn about topics in biology of particular interest to you, and for you to further develop your skills in
    • assimilating scientific observations and perspectives
    • connecting them to your own interests and experiences
    • conveying your unique understandings to others in ways that will be helpful in their own explorations.


  • Include searches on Serendip in your explorations. This will help you get started on particular topics, and give you a sense of style, as well as of what prior material on things interesting to you already exists on Serendip. No one has ever said the last word on any topic so you can/should build on available material if it is relevant to what you're interested in.


  • Poke around enough to evaluate whether what you've learned is "mainstream" or "controversial", and know why. Do not rely too heavily on single sources.


  • Once you've learned something, figure out what the question is to which what you've learned is the answer. That is often (always?) not your initial question.


  • Get beyond giving "report" of what you've found/learned. Think about it, react to it, question it, find some for you new ways of thinking. Make connections to other things, worry about what YOU think/understand/wonder about, be critical both of other peoples' work/understandings and your own. It is fine to end with new questions that new understanding raises.


  • Be organized in your writing. Start with what you think is important (a question or assertion), organize everything else in relation to that (leaving out what you may have learned that isn't relevant), conclude by showing how what you've talked about relates to what you started with. Do not write about your explorations but rather about what you've gotten from them.

    Papers will be evaluated in relation to
    • evidence of engagement and creativity
    • sophistication in relating observations to interpretations
    • success at communicating to a general audience


    • 7 - clear account of significant material
    • 8 - contributes new insights/understandings
    • 9 - is likely to motivate new understandings in others
    • 10 - makes me see things differently
      7.5-8.0 ---> 3.0
      8.0-8.5 ---> 3.3
      8.5-9.0 ---> 3.7
      9.0-10 ---> 4.0


  • Avoid excessive use of quotations. Put things in your own words unless what you want to call attention to some particular way of saying things by some particular person.


  • Be sure to include a good annotated list of references, including web references. This provides a "window" that will help your readers do their own further exploring.


  • Enjoy learning new things, and trying out new ways of communicating them. Remember that you are helping others to better understand biology, and to contribute to better understanding it themselves.


  • Your objective is substantial scientific sophistication conveyed so as to make it accessible to a general audience.


Over the course of the semester you should read either a college biology textbook, or another book on a biological topic of interest to you. Your commentary should not summarize the book but rather convey to readers what you found particularly interesting/problematic about the book and how it expands/conflicts with your understanding of biology as it has developed in our course.


Information about Biology 103

Paul Grobstein

Biology 103 has a course home page (1), from which other resources related to the course can be reached. The course home page is located on Serendip, a World Wide Web server which provides additional resources in the areas of neurobiology and behavior, complex systems, science and culture, and science education (2). Among these is a list of recent books, such as Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens (3).

Among the available course resources on Serendip is a forum area (4), where students write weekly comments on material of the course. Each week's comments are moved to their own file, which can be reached by clicking on a topic list at the end of the course home page (1).


1) /biology/b103/f03; Biology 103 home page, on the Serendip web site

2) /; Serendip, the server home page.

3) Damasio, Antonio. The Feeling of What Happens. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999.

4) /forum/newforum/bio103f02-read.html; Biology 103 forum area, on the Serendip web site



Web papers and the book commentary should all be submitted as hard copy and, in addition, on line. To submit on-line

  1. Save a new version of your paper as "text only" with a new name.
  2. Go the our course home page and log in.
  3. Click on "My Blog" under your name in the right column.
  4. Click on "Post a new blog entry"
  5. Enter your paper title
  6. Under "student web paper" select the appropriate tag (eg Biology 103 Web Paper 1) from the pull down menu
  7. Select one or more "topics" from the pull down menu
  8. Copy and paste your text only document (without your name or the title) into "body" window
  9. Use buttons to format, add links in reference list
  10. Click on Preview, edit paper in the body window
  11. Click Submit