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CBE Life Sci Educ. 2016 winter;15(4). pii: ar70.

The Design and Transformation of Biofundamentals: A Nonsurvey Introductory Evolutionary and Molecular Biology Course.

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Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology, University of Colorado-Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309
Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology, University of Colorado-Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309.
Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48823.


Many introductory biology courses amount to superficial surveys of disconnected topics. Often, foundational observations and the concepts derived from them and students' ability to use these ideas appropriately are overlooked, leading to unrealistic expectations and unrecognized learning obstacles. The result can be a focus on memorization at the expense of the development of a meaningful framework within which to consider biological phenomena. About a decade ago, we began a reconsideration of what an introductory course should present to students and the skills they need to master. The original Web-based course's design presaged many of the recommendations of the Vision and Change report; in particular, a focus on social evolutionary mechanisms, stochastic (evolutionary and molecular) processes, and core ideas (cellular continuity, evolutionary homology, molecular interactions, coupled chemical reactions, and molecular machines). Inspired by insights from the Chemistry, Life, the Universe & Everything general chemistry project, we transformed the original Web version into a (freely available) book with a more unified narrative flow and a set of formative assessments delivered through the beSocratic system. We outline how student responses to course materials are guiding future course modifications, in particular a more concerted effort at helping students to construct logical, empirically based arguments, explanations, and models.

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