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University News

Biological Science Curriculum Evolves
by Dave Reid


From Dateline (March 13, 2003)


In a quest to offer students a quality and relevant education in the face of an explosion of knowledge in the field, the core biological science curriculum is undergoing a sea of change.

Thanks to National Science Foundation grants and matching resources totaling more than a million dollars, the department is in the process of implementing, refining and evaluating the new curriculum. It's an educational process not unlike the biological evolutionary process through which organisms change and manifest new characteristics.

Reforming the curriculum involves major changes in content, learning approaches and the use of cutting-edge technology, said Joyce Ono, professor of biological science, who is spear- heading the change under the direction of Gene Jones, chair and professor of biological science.

“We have been working on this for the better part of seven years,” said Jones. “It seems to be going very well. The objective of the new core curriculum is to better prepare lower-division students to succeed at the upper-division level, where they will specialize in a particular sub- discipline of biology.”

The changes have received the attention of other universities, noted Ono. “We have been told by colleagues in a national group [sponsored by Exxo-Mobil and the Pew Charitable Trust] that promotes higher standards for undergraduate education that Cal State Fullerton is in the forefront of change for large universities involved in enhancing biological science education.”

At the heart of the program are four new five-unit classes: Evolution and Biodiversity; Cellular Basis of Life; Genetics and Molecular Biology; and Principles of Physiology and Ecology. Principles was offered for the first time this semester; the others were introduced last fall.

Also changing is the emphasis on memorization of large numbers of facts.

“Students are learning through discovery - the best way to learn science,” said Ono. “We want students to understand fundamental processes, rather than memorizing information.

“We use the approach of guided inquiry and involve student teams in laboratory and field work. We hope to provide a scaffold, or framework, that students can fill in with new knowledge throughout the curriculum, as well as involve them in the processes of science. We want students to learn to develop questions based on obser vations or research and formulate hypotheses that they will test.”

Also new is the use of cutting- edge technology.Mackey Auditorium in the Ruby Gerontology Center, as well as several classes in McCarthy and Langsdorf halls, have been wired for the Personal Response System, in which students respond to class or test questions by entering answers on a hand-held transponder. Receptors record the responses, as well as who is responding. The responses can then be displayed on a large screen in the form of a bar graph.

Finally, Biological Sciences has instituted an exit exam. Such an exam was first used two years ago and is expected to provide a valuable baseline of information, said Ono.

Still another major development will be the introduction of a degree emphasis for biological science majors, similar to other academic areas. Beginning in fall 2004, upper-division biological science majors can select one of four emphases: biodiversity, ecology and conservation biology; marine biology; cell and developmental biology; or molecular biology and biotechnology.

Faculty members are responding well to the program, said Ono, adding that programs are planned to aid new instructors in implementing the curriculum.

“Though we will be studying and evaluating these changes for quite some time, I feel very positive about what we've done so far,” noted Jones.

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