Biologists Try New Tacks To Teach College Students

REVERSING A TREND: A textbook by Ken Miller of Brown takes an unconventional macro-micro approach. In one controversial pedagogical technique, the conventional order of instruction is reversed. Biologists who teach their subject to first-year college students face a troubling dilemma. Over the past 20 years, the amount of subject matter that they must cover has expanded severalfold. During the same time, by most accounts, incoming students' scientific background and ability to understand theo

Peter Gwynne
Sep 1, 1997

Ken Miller
REVERSING A TREND: A textbook by Ken Miller of Brown takes an unconventional macro-micro approach.

In one controversial pedagogical technique, the conventional order of instruction is reversed.
Biologists who teach their subject to first-year college students face a troubling dilemma. Over the past 20 years, the amount of subject matter that they must cover has expanded severalfold. During the same time, by most accounts, incoming students' scientific background and ability to understand theoretical concepts has declined. So freshmen with less preparation than their predecessors must somehow acquire more biological knowledge than those predecessors ever did.

Teachers, textbook writers, and publishers have tried several ways to solve the problem. One relatively new approach reverses the conventional order of instruction. It starts with animals, plants, and other familiar objects and works down to cells, molecules, and atoms, rather than the other way round. A more recent teaching technique emphasizes depth over breadth...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?