Canned laboratories and cook-book approaches to college science education do teach skills like operating equipment, making accurate measurements and working with numbers. Most laboratory exercises emphasize the reinforcement of concepts discussed in class, but they do not teach students how to take a scientific approach to an area of interest about the natural world. Science is more than just techniques, measurements and facts, and these laboratory exercises do not foster the critical thinking and interpretation skills crucial to scientific research.
Released in the wake of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action in 2011, many undergraduate educators have been attempting to revamp their curriculum to address these concerns, but problems abound; as Susman writes, it's not easy to redesign curriculum to meet these standards, and there is no good guide for the enthusiastic undergraduate instructors on how to do so.
The goal of Discovery-Based Experience in the Life Sciences is to present a different way of organizing and developing biology teaching laboratories, to promote both deep learning and understanding of core concepts, while still teaching the creative process of science.
In eight chapters, Susman guides undergraduate instructors in creating their own inquiry based experiments. The first chapter introduces the text with an articulation of why Discovery-Based Experience in the Life Sciences is so timely and necessary; the chapters that follow address pedagogical goals and desired outcomes, incorporating discovery-based laboratory experiences at the introductory level, realistic constraints on such lab experiments, model scenarios for both introductory and intermediate-level life science courses, and alternate ways to enhance student understanding. Discovery-Based Experience in the Life Sciences concludes with a reflection on the four imperatives outlined in the Vision and Change report – climate, food, energy and health – and how we can use these laboratory experiments to encompass those imperatives.
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