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

Book Evaluation

Georgia Lawrence's picture

In this class, we have come to understand, time and time again, the importance of proteins on biological systems. I would like to focus my analysis of the seventh edition of Biology, written by Neil Campbell and Jane Reece, on the chapters concerning the creation of proteins from transcription and translation. I found this part of the course to be particularly interesting, and feel that this section provides a solid basis for comparison between the approaches of the book and the course. Chapter 17 is titled “From Gene to Protein,” and promises by the end of the section that the reader will, “understand how genetic mutations, such as the one causing the dwarf trait in pea plants, affect organisms through their proteins” (2, 309). This section corresponds with our discussion from the week starting October 30th, during which we discussed the process of creating polypeptide chains, and in turn, the creation of proteins.
Chapter 17 of the text book begins with the history of the research done to determine the processes of transcription and translation, the two major stages required to create proteins from DNA (2, 311). It then acknowledges that this research is part of an ongoing “story” which allows for revisions of the current hypothesis in the future. After providing the initial background context, the book delves into the explanations for each process. The book goes into much greater detail than was covered in class, however, it is important to keep in mind the goals of the course compared to the goals of the text book. In Biology 103, we were attempting to gain a basic understanding of concepts related to the study of biology, whereas a student relying on this text book would probably be looking for introductory knowledge in order to advance to the next level. Overall, I find that the use of the internet and the online lecture notes Professor Grobstein provided to be a more effective teaching method for our purposes. While I would never wish to minimize the value of reading to gain a better understanding, the online website is a more accessible source of information for those wishing to gain a better understanding of the world around them, rather than memorizing a bunch of processes and facts relating to biology.
While I found the website to be a better method for teaching than the text book in this particular chapter, there are several features of the book that I feel parallel or vary from the format of our course. The use of pictures and figures in the text provide for a more in depth understanding of the concepts being discussed in the text. These are much like the links provided on the site along side Prof Grobstein’s bullet points. Students are able to go back to the site on their own time and further explore provided sites, just as they are capable of examining the figures and captions. The book also puts key terms and concepts into bold font and they are defined in the back of the book in the glossary. These would be helpful for review of the section and a limited understanding of the chapter. Each chapter is also broken down into sections, and at the end of each section there is a “concept check” containing a couple questions to ask oneself. In addition, at the end of every chapter, there is a multiple choice, 10 question quiz, for which answers are provided in the Appendix. After reading the chapter, the questions were not difficult to answer, but were helpful in providing some sort of self-evaluation. That was one of the major differences between the book and the structure of the course. There was not a lot of opportunity in the course to evaluate how well you had understood concepts taught in class, at least in the traditional sense of examinations, such as quizzes or tests.
All of these features reflect two very different philosophies of teaching. Rather than teaching for a test, and requiring rigid memorization, Professor Grobstein’s structure of the class encouraged participation in the course forum to express concerns and thoughts. The class fostered individual expression and ideas and instead of responding to a text, we were responding to each other. While the text book provides much material for a greater understanding of biology, the students provided each other with research on interesting topics from different sources. Mariellyssa writes during the week we were discussing proteins, “Although class this past week was interesting, I did find it a bit hard to follow. I spent some time this weekend reading about fat and cholesterol levels and how they effect our bodies… I found this great article by the Harvard School of Public Health that was really interesting, you should check it out” (1, Mariellyssa, 11/5/2006) . Not only did she take the initiative to learn more about the subject and educate herself, rather than waiting to be taught, she was able to provide the rest of the students, and anyone reading our course forum, the opportunity to learn more as well. While I think that the two forms of learning achieve similar goals in the end, the student has a much different educational experience.
Overall, I felt that in the authors’ attempt to break the material down into manageable sizes, a student easily loses sight of the big picture. It would be difficult for a student really absorbed in the facts of the material to take a step back and appreciate the really wonderful processes occurring in biology, as our class was often able to do. An example of this is very clearly expressed in the forum, “It is really amazing that the slightest changes in the assembly of atoms or in a molecule can lead to things as different as a human and a rock… To think, any one of us could be affected with a serious disease because of a ‘malfunction’ of DNA, the smallest things that make up our body” (1, Kelly, 11/6/2006). Especially in this chapter, which is dealing with genetic makeup on such a miniscule level, one does not get a full appreciation for the tiny changes along the polypeptide chain which result in the expressed genetic mutations. I found the book to provide a wealth of information, much of which was not even covered by the class lectures, but I gained a better appreciation for the implications of science in my everyday life than I otherwise would have in a different course.

Works Cited

1) “Biology 103 Fall 2006 Forum: Macromolecules, Hearts, and Organisms.” Serendip. Bryn Mawr College. 18 Dec. 2006 </forum/view forum.php?forum_id=417&start=20816&end=20885>.

2) Campbell, Neil A., and Jane B. Reece. Biology. 7th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2005.