Tag: freshman biology

New Semester, New Start

by gwilson on Aug.28, 2015, under Program

IMG_0362The start of the Fall Semester and the 2015-16 school year brings with it a new start in the biology programs at McMurry. New Biomedical Science majors join those from Biology and Life Sciences in taking the new Biology Core – common classes that insure a common experience covering the breadth of biology.  This fall, the first new course is being taught – General Biology I – and its follow-up (ingeniously called General Biology II) will follow in the spring.

Lots of schools have a similar two-semester freshman biology sequence.  Like many, ours is cells, processes and genetics in the first and multicellular organisms, diversity of life and ecology in the second.  However, we hope that the lab for General Biology I will set our program apart from most.  The lab, designed by Dr. Benoit, is based on a few “canned” labs interspersed among several multi-week projects covering key concepts and teaching skills central to future biology courses.  There will be a project creating and studying Winogradsky columns that will emphasize metabolism and nutrient cycling and ecological succession.  Another will use yeast to demonstrate carbon dioxide generation in fermentation and alginate beads to follow its consumption in photosynthesis.  A third will require groups of students to design experiments with yeast to study fermentation changes with variations in substrates or environmental conditions.  And mitosis and meiosis will be followed using yeast mating experiments.  Not exactly an approach taken by most colleges for teaching first semester college students.  Our intent is to give them an engaging course unlike anything taken before, one that teaches principles and how science is done and provides experience putting skills learned into action to provide answers to biological questions.

We should be posting stories from this course here and on our Facebook page ( during the semester.  Hope you will follow our journey!

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Report on SOAR 2

by gwilson on Jul.10, 2009, under A Day in the Life...

Thomas at GraduationToday we saw completion of our second Summer Orientation And Registration (SOAR) session.  During these two-day events, incoming McMurry students learn all about college life at McMurry and get their schedules set for the fall semester.

So where do we stand, now that we are half way through the registration process (there is another SOAR and a good number of students always register at the beginning of school)?  We have 27 students in the first BIMS course – BIMS 1300 Introduction to Scientific Research.  This course introduces students to looking at science and studying life science in a new and engaging way.  If we keep on the current track, we should see at least a 50% increase in BIMS majors this year, proof that our approach is gaining momentum and students are “buying in” to our new way of teaching. 

How are the other freshman-year Biology courses doing?  There are 18 signed up for the BIOL 1301 Unicellular Organisms class, which is offered both fall and spring.  BIMS majors must take this with the BIMS 1101 Unicellular Lab, which is only offered in the spring, so it is a good bet that many of these are Biology majors instead of BIMS majors.  Botany (the first course for BS in Biology majors) has 24 enrolled, while the Human Anatomy & Physiology I course sits at 60 right now.  This course is needed for Nursing, Exercise Science, and Life Sciences majors.  These are exciting times for our BIMS/Biology faculty!

What does this tell us?  At this point, it appears 1 in every 4-5 freshman students enrolling at McMurry this fall has an interest in a Biology Department program.  With so many of the predicted “hot jobs” of the future centered in healthcare, biotech/forensics, the environment, and medical research, it is not surprising that so many of our students gravitate toward them.  BIMS was a program whose time had come, and our offering this exciting program says we’re preparing students for prosperous and successful futures!

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New Perspectives on Students – Part 3

by gwilson on May.20, 2009, under Students

07230266Welcome back!  I must have piqued your curiosity if you are  back to see how my third installment resolves this discussion about college students and good teaching.  If you’ll remember, in episode 1, I defined the problem with teaching in the sciences and the horrible disconnect between old ways of teaching and learning, and how important to national security and prosperity such a gap represented.  Our goal cannot be to weed out students in the sciences – it must be to find better ways to engage them and foster their success.  In episode 2, I made my case for the source of the problem being the way technology has forever changed the planet.  We often think of technology as being a wonderful thing for improving teaching.  My point is this is a double-edged sword.  That which is useful as a teaching tool is also responsible for the changes in students that make use of technology for teaching in old ways no better than teaching without it in old ways.  The issue in teaching is not technology or no technology – it is old teaching vs. new teaching.  Our approaches have to change to reach the 21st Century student.

Predator-prey relationships.  If you remember the cyclic nature of these relationships, you also remember that changes in the prey population necessitate changes in the predator population to keep pace or perish.  Our college world has changed irreparably, and we as college faculty can either adapt or go extinct.  The obvious changes in today’s college students have not been matched by a change in our teaching styles and expectations - students (our prey) represent the first population to change and faculty (the predators) are left in a perpetual game of “catch up”.  Millenial students provide the selective pressure that will dictate the direction of that natural selection.  

My BIMS colleague Tom Benoit has convinced me:  less is more when it comes to education.  Spend your time limiting and teaching to what is truly needed, and invest more time in helping them learn to be proficient in its use.  Abandon wholesale mastering and embrace effective management of information.  Nobody can master the information in any science field!  Just when you think you’re current, it is time for another 1000 life science journals to arrive in the mail.  It is better to do a few things well than many things poorly.  We can’t turn back the clock and expect students to go back to the old-school approach to education – the technology genie (and all of its ramifications) is out of the bottle.  The same can be said for the information explosion in any of our main science disciplines – keeping pace with change is not something possible for small college science programs.  But we can spend every semester trying to close the gap in that predator-prey curve by teaching in ways students learn, providing them with useful skills that match their abilities, and focusing on what is important to know and what we can let technology do about the rest.

The knee-jerk response to my assertion that technology is to blame for the huge chasm that has formed between the way we teach and the way students learn would be to think increasing use of technology on the professor’s part would be the way to increase motivation.  Fighting fire with fire!  That is not what I am saying or promoting.  I believe technology can help, but the answer is not in the tools used – it is in the approach taken.

The BIMS program at McMurry was carefully constructed to take a different approach in science education, one so radical that the knee-jerk reaction is it can never work.  We have every reason to believe it will.  We realized success hinged on having a great lure/bait with which to capture the attention of students.  We needed to “work the lure” to further draw students into becoming an active part of their “capture” as future scientists.  We knew we had to reduce the distractions that would scare off our prey.  Our goal was not to be great teachers, it was to have students become great learners (as Tom Benoit says “A day spent learning is a day lost of lecturing!”).  As we began to solidify our approach to the degree we were constructing, we realized we were on to something.  Though in its infancy, the program shows signs of taking the disenchantment and boredom so many first year college students experience in science majors and replacing it with a fun, engaging, and highly successful alternative.  In Part 4, I’ll lay out our philosophy and approach that forms the foundation for McMurry’s truly innovative curriculum and program in Biomedical Science.

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