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Fostering Change in Undergraduate Biology Education – What Can ASPB Do?
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Vision & Change 2011 UPDATE:

The Call to Action final report is available at


 In Chicago at Plant Biology 2007, ASPB organized an event for representatives from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to host a discussion of the topic "Vision and Change in Biology Undergraduate Education: A View for the 21st Century”. An article describing this standing-room-only session was published in the ASPB September/October 2007 Newsletter. Participants in this discussion were divided into small groups and asked to define curricular goals, course designs, and delivery options, as well as the related faculty preparation and institutional structures that would be needed to create effective change for the future of undergraduate biology education. Over the last year NSF has lead a series of similar conversations with key scientists, life science organizations, and biology educators to identify and prioritize goals.
In May this year AAAS, NSF and AIBS gathered over 60 professional societies' representatives in Washington to continue this "discussion” and to present some of the findings of the conversations with scientists and biology educators held over the last year. NSF also asked the representatives present to identify possible strategies professional societies could utilize to foster change in undergraduate biological sciences education.

In her summary of the findings, Penny Firth from the National Science Foundation described the following three components in what NSF calls "A Shared Vision” and possible strategies for professional societies.

I. Concept Literacy

  • Students need to read, write and apply what is learned.
  • The "process of science” should be taught. As faculty we need to realize that we can't teach all the material in biology.
  • Students need to understand that science is "evidence based” and "evolution based”.
  • Faculty members need to remember to "teach the science” and convey that science it is a "way of knowing”.
  • There needs to be some "follow up” with students once they leave the classroom, course and institution.

II. Active and Experiential Learning

  • Students need real world problems to analyze.
  • Students need to deal with controversies.
  • Students need to experience the way scientists "do” science.
  • Students need critical thinking skills.
  • Faculty members have to look at their own teaching methods and develop ways to address these student needs.

III. Broad Career Horizons

  • For the majority of students their terminal course in science is undergraduate introductory biology. This is the students "Gateway to Science” and our last chance to enhance their understanding of science.
  • These students have come from diverse backgrounds and are going into a broad range of careers. They will be the K-8 teachers, politicians, lawyers and business leaders of the future.
  • These students need to be prepared to make future decisions on scientific issues.

So what can professional societies do to help?

  • Use their meetings, journals, and websites as clearinghouses for material to support concept literacy, active or experiential learning, and broad career horizons.
  • Encourage the integration of professional societies' roles with educational societies.
  • Help in assessing and institutionalizing "good ideas” and "feedback loops” for "good science”.
  • Encourage the establishment of faculty development and support for these.
  • Become the "stewards” of resources by creating, consolidating and disseminating material.

What about resources to do this? This can be the role of funding agencies. Also it is understood now that great scholarship is rewarded but there is a need to bring provosts and administrators into the conversation to support educational scholarship.
What is the next step? NSF plans to continue the "conversations and discussions” ramping up for a "Vision of Change” conference. Here societies will be asked how they are contributing to the vision. It is understood that at a minimum this is a decade-long plan with shared visions and partners. Add your expertise to the conversation. Submit your specific successes for fostering change in undergraduate biology education to

-- Written by Dr. Jane Ellis, ASPB Education Committee Chair

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