VATNICK, I.; MORRIS, R.W.*; Widener University; Widener University: Biology for Non-Majors -Who Knew? I Liked Biology
A quick Google search on biology courses for non-majors reveals a multitude of approaches, topics and institutional attitudes. In spite of this diversity, we assert that most students, required to take it, hate it. We devised a course that we enjoyed teaching, they enjoyed taking, and from which we all learned something. The primary goals of our course are to: 1) Empower students (our future citizenry) to make informed decisions by 2) Helping them acquire the tools of information gathering (research), decision making and persuasion. In so doing, we also enable them to experience how science is done. The lure was the promise of no lectures and no exams and the trade-off was a great deal of work willingly supplied by the students, who could see the immediate and future applicability of what they were doing. In small groups, the students research a case or topic, deliver an oral presentation, usually assisted by Power Point, to the class, and moderate subsequent discussion. This is accompanied by a formal, written report. Finally, each student submits an individual work related to the topic, e.g. an education student might prepare a third grade lesson plan on the topic. The general topic areas included evolution, ecology, pollution, genetics and genetic engineering, and STDs. Interwoven among the case studies and reports are laboratory experiences correlated with the topic, e.g. DNA fingerprinting and genetics. We assessed all the group and individual assignments but most importantly students assess each of their classmates, especially those within their work groups. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Anonymous student evaluations averaged 1.5, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being highest, and their written critiques indicate increased understanding of and appreciation for science as a way of knowing.