Biology 202 Evolving

Notes for "A Case Study of Teaching and Learning at Bryn Mawr"

Paul Grobstein

2 December 2005

Biology 202, Neurobiology and Behavior

Reflects accrued and continually accruing experience in a variety of teaching contexts

A "non-traditional" science course

"Would you recommend this course to other students? Why or why not?" (representative sample of responses to BMC teaching evaluation form, spring 2004) Yes, you really learn a lot of interesting things and open up your mind to new ideas. The class focused on learning how to think.^

Yes. It opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking about science.*

Yes - because it is a completely different, refreshing course designed for the student to get as much out of as he or she wants.

Yes! This class serves as a wonderful introduction to Neuro and Behavior whether or not you are experienced with bio or simply a novice. I think that anyone taking this course will walk away with the feeling that they have learned a lot.^

I would definitely recommend this course. It offers something to interest anyone regardless of their major.*

Yes. Its an opportunity to interact with people academically who are from different disciplines. *

Yes, especially for bio students who don't often get the opportunity to explore the philosophical issues surrounding what they do.

I think the lack of strict structures might make this course a bit frustrating for science people, who are used to strict guidelines.

If they would prefer a science class that focuses less on memorization, I would recommend it. But for people persuing science degrees, it may not be the technical level they desire.*

No. This class is a waste of time and is not particularly factually informative in regards to the course's stated subject. This is perhaps the worst class I have taken in college.*

*course counts toward major
^course possibily counts toward major

Student Comment, Nov 2005

Bio 202 was the first course I took at Bryn Mawr that truly felt interdisciplinary (aside from CSEM) I have always wanted a course that focused on specific topics yet discussed them through a large genre of studies. I feel like the very nature of this class allowed for people with various interests to add their personal experience and studies. From what I can recall, everyone in the class seemed to have a different major and everyone, therefore, had different interests. Although the class was very large for a 200 discussion-based class, I felt like there was a decent amount of discussion without too much pull from the professor. I realize this may have just been luck, but even on days where there was a lag in discussion, I felt like the professor did a good job of warming up the class and stirring up conversation. I wish I had more classes where discussion took the forefront and lecture was not as heavily used. I feel this is better for learning and easier on my wandering mind! Furthermore, interdisciplinary courses like this one make it easier for everyone to find something interesting in what is being taught. I wish there were more classes offered like this ... Elizabeth Madresh

Post Discussion Notes

Distinction among students who do not/do have positive response to this course is not science versus non-science nor practical versus "academic" interests. Is perhaps between those who want/expect to be rewarded for knowing more than someone else does, and those who want/expect something else from a course/learning experience (an opportunity to participate in shaping their own inquiries into something they are interested in? to be involved as colleagues in an inquiry rather than prepared as students for involvement in inquiry at some point in the future? to be allowed to raise questions not only about "models" but about the "theory" from which they are born?).

It may also be between the latter and those who have a greater satisfaction with/interest in existing structures and/or at being successful within existing structures (professions, disciplines). The course may be a less appealing experience for such students or even put them at risk in terrms of subsequent interactions/achievement. There are two responses to such concerns. One is that being comfortable with the "big picture"/details reciprocity, and the possibility of their being alternative ways to think about things ("gave me confidence in questioning science"), may be as important to professional success in the long run as knowing more than other people about the details at a given time. The other is that accepting the need to work only within existing structures propagates outward to affect the character of both graduate and precollege education. There is a need to break the feedback cycles at some point and some group of people need to be willing to take the risk.

The conflict between courses of this kind (which includes other courses both in the sciences and outside it) and more structure oriented courses relates not only to students potentially being at risk but also to the choices students have to make in alloting their time in an environment containing both more prescriptive courses and courses deliberately less structured so as to offer students more opportunities for their own developmental paths). And in the challenge that the latter are "fluffy".

There is an interesting parallel between this tension and training for, practicing law. On the one side there is the perceived need to memorize cases and decisions. On the other is the recognition that there are/will always be more cases and decisions and the associated desire to have a "theory" for them. Perhaps the focus should be neither on details nor on "theory" but rather on the nature of the processes needed to mediate between the two.

It is also worth bearing in mind that most students taking most courses are not in fact going to graduate school. So it is perhaps worth questioning whether courses ought in fact to be structured entirely for the purposes of a particular small student population? Perhaps "non-traditional" teaching in science (elsewhere?) is better suited to the actual distribution of interests/aspirations of students in most courses? Perhaps curricula should consist mostly of "non-traditional" courses, with "auxiliary" offerings for the population of students interested in going on to graduate school?

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