The articles in this section comprise a brief tutorial on how teachers and students can use this resource to maximize their teaching and learning gains, respectively. One section includes an important Bio-Math Exploration on interpreting statistical tests.
Over the past 50 years, research in biology has undergone a dramatic transformation, becoming more quantitative and interdisciplinary, and relying more heavily on the other sciences, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, and geology. For example, to understand large, rapidly changing ecosystems, or to make sense of the massive amounts of data produced by the Human Genome Project, biologists must use modern mathematical, statistical, computational, and technological tools.
Yet during this time of dramatic transformation in our understanding of biology, biology textbooks have not kept pace, except in the volume of content to be memorized. Introductory biology textbooks de-emphasize the process of science and are not consistent with research into how people learn. Instead, textbooks contain ever-expanding lists of vocabulary words that most students will forget soon after the course is completed. A book that passively presents large volumes of information deprives you of the opportunity to learn the way real scientists learn–– through discovery. Despite more than a century of recognized need for change, introductory biology textbooks have failed to evolve.
Recent initiatives have called for evidence-based approaches to teaching.2-4,10 Efforts with significant support have focused on precisely what needs to change and why.2,3 Recent publications have called for active engagement with students, inquiry-based approaches, and teaching biology as a process and not just a set of disjointed facts.11,12 Inquiry- and process-based approaches lead to long-term learning gains.12 Traditional textbooks reinforce the misconception that science is merely a collection of facts, and deprive your students of the opportunity to learn the way real scientists learn––through discovery.
Integrating Concepts in Biology (ICB) is an e-text that presents the core concepts of biology in a new way for majors’ introductory biology courses. ICB 1) focuses on “big ideas” rather than disjointed facts; 2) emphasizes experimental design and...
How do people learn? What is the best way to retain information? A study led by Daniel Udovic at the University of Oregon13 compared two introductory biology courses: one was an active-learning course where students constructed their own knowledge, and the other was a traditionally taught lecture course. Udovic and his colleagues measured the mean percentage change in a pretest versus a posttest for each of the two courses (Figure 1). The test covered basic concepts in evolution, natural selection, ecosystems, communities, and populations. Changes in individual performances between pretest and posttest are plotted on the y-axis. Purple bars are means for the active-learning course, and teal bars are means for the traditional course. Class sizes were 61 for the active learning course and 62 for the traditional course.
Figure 1 Average change in test scores...
ICB helps your students learn biology the same way that practicing biologists carry out research and look for connections between key concepts. With the explosion of new discoveries in biology, a focus on major concepts is more beneficial than memorization of growing lists of facts.3,8,16 The structure of ICB is built on five Big Ideas of Biology in which all biological concepts are embedded (Figure 2). The five Big Ideas presented in this textbook are:
Figure 2. The five Big Ideas of biology, with the five size scales embedded in each Big Idea.
1. Living systems have multiple mechanisms to store, retrieve, and transmit information.
2. The diversity and unity of life can be explained by the process of evolution.
3. Cells are a fundamental structural and functional unit of life.
4. Interdependent relationships characterize biological systems, and...
ICB uses many tools to help your students construct their own knowledge and relate new concepts and information to their existing knowledge. The first tool they will encounter in each chapter is the Learning Objectives. The objectives are divided into several categories: Biology, Bio-Math Exploration, and Ethical, Legal, Social Implications (ELSI). Research tells us that students learn better when they know what is expected of them. The Learning Objectives help your students focus their reading and identify the outcomes and abilities they should gain from the reading. The best way for your students to use the Learning Objectives is to keep them in mind as they read, and refer back to them as they complete each section of a chapter. The Learning Objectives cover a range of Bloom’s taxonomy, with comprehension and application as the most common.
Following the Learning Objectives...
The goal of this Bio-Math Exploration is to help you interpret data like the learning gains in Figure 1. You need to know the concept of a mathematical average. You will learn the concepts of standard deviation, standard error, p-value, and significant differences, all of which are used throughout ICB.
In Figure 1, class environment had a much greater effect on learning for some questions than for others.
Figure 1 Average change in test scores organized by type of question. Changes are the difference in individual performances between pretest and posttest. Purple bars are averages for the active-learning course, and teal bars are averages for the lecture course (+ 1 SE). * = p < 0.05; ** = p < 0.01; *** = p < 0.001; p > 0.05. Figure 1 from Udovic et al., 2002, by permission of Oxford University Press and AIBS.)
Student change in...
The way students use ICB may very well determine their long-term success in biology. ICB is designed to foster critical thinking skills and your construction of students’ knowledge. Occasionally, students may feel frustrated as they struggle with challenging Integrating Questions or Bio-Math Explorations, but the potential rewards are great. When information is passively given to students, the content is difficult to remember. When they actively assemble the information into a coherent concept, it will stay with them longer.4,5 As their teacher, you want your students to become critical thinkers who are able to analyze and interpret scientific data, even if they don’t become scientists. We hypothesize that students will be more likely to choose a career in science once they discover that science is not obsessed by memorization of facts, but emphasizes discovery, innovation,...