GILLEN, C.M.; VAUGHAN, J.R.; LYE, B.R.; Kenyon College, Gambier, OH: Using primary literature in a course for non-science majors.
The use of primary literature in a biology course for non-science majors is described. We propose two rationales for using primary research articles in a course for non-science majors. First, learning to reading primary literature is a skill that may be useful to students throughout their adult lives. Second, reading primary literature is an active means for learning about the scientific process. However, reading primary literature is very challenging for non-science majors, and teaching students how to read primary literature can be time-consuming and thus detract from other course objectives. We have designed course materials that facilitate use of primary literature in a non-science majors course entitled Biology of Exercise. Students undertake a semester-long project that involves asking a research question, learning the basic biology relevant to the question, finding and analyzing a primary research article related to their question, and writing a position paper based on their interpretation of the available evidence. In support of this project, we (the course instructor, a librarian, and an undergraduate student) have developed an online tutorial designed to help students learn how to read research papers. In addition to content about how to read a research paper, the tutorial also includes examples and opportunities to practice reading research papers. The online tutorial allows students to learn at their own pace, and preserves class time for discussion and active learning exercises. Based on the quality of the position papers students submit, we find that most students are able to accurately summarize and intelligently analyze a research article by the end of the semester. Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the HHMI.