Syllabus for BIOL 111
Contemporary Biology
Fall, 2003

A Problem-Based Learning Course       Excited Person Waving

Instructor, Texts,
Times, Places
Course Description
and Ground Rules
Course Content and
The Reasons for It
Content Order and
Staged Pedagogy
Daily Schedule
Welcome Message and Description

Instructor, Texts, Times, and Places

The class

BIOL 111 meets Tues./Thurs. 9:30-10:45 am, Science Building 3114

The text

Biology: Concepts and Connections by Campbell, Mitchell, and Reece

The instructor

Prof. Douglas Eder
Department of Biological Sciences
Office of Undergraduate Assessment -&- The Undergraduate Research Academy

To contact, you may use your own e-mail server or the e-mail function within WebCT.

Your professor is available 24 hours a day via e-mail. In addition, there will be specific times announced in class when I will monitor the chat rooms and Electronic Forum within WebCT in order to provide rapid [virtual] consultation.

Course Description and Ground Rules for BIOL 111

Outline of this section
Course Goal & Format
Prerequisites, Expectations, and Attendance
Exams, Quizzes and Written Work
Missing or Incomplete Performance
Students With Disabilities
The Singular Commandment

Course Goal
This course is about biocatastrophes: Invasions and immigrations, epidemics, population explosions, and extinctions. Its purpose is to introduce students to collegiate-level thinking, investigating, and writing about contemporary issues in science and biology. By the end of this course, the successful student will:

This course is taught partly in a Problem-Based Learning format. During this course in biology you should gain a clearer idea of what science is (Can you distinguish between "experiment," "theory," "fact," and "belief"?) and what special powers scientific thinking confers (When can angels and gremlins be properly suspected of influencing results?). We will explore biology by examining issues of considerable interest since September 11, 2001: Biocatastrophes. Actually, by using biological catastrophes as an organizer, we can gain special insights into such fundamental biological subdisciplines as ecology, evolution, microbiology, virology, immunology, and physiology. And, through familiarization by dialogue, group work, and independent study, you will become a more scientifically literate citizen. The focus of our activities will be to ask you, the student, to uncover already-published ideas and records of biological catastrophes and, through our class, to examine and assemble rational explanations of their causes and effects. Although scientific "facts" may initially seem intimidating and even frightening, it is possible to confront, understand, and manage them.

College level skills in written and spoken English language, while usually assumed, are taught and practiced within this Learning Community. Some high school biology and math are assumed, however. A signed Receipt of Syllabus statement is required.

Satisfactory performance in University courses generally asks for two hours of study outside of class for each hour in class. This estimate applies to an "average" student expecting an "adequate" (=C) grade. Students aiming higher or those with academic problems should expect to spend more effort than the minimum. If you're going to procrastinate, not read ahead of time, or expect to cram everything on last days before exams, this is not the course for you.

Class attendance is expected. Although some good reasons exist for missing a class, a student missing more than 10% of class time is subject to reduction of grade.

Grades for this biology course are based on quizzes (15% total), three major exams (15% each), a final exam (15%), a group-based Web problem/project (15%), and participation (10%). Other Biology 111 courses exist that are not taught in this format. For this particular biology course, the overall expectation for grades is the following:

Exams and Quizzes
Biology exams will emphasize factual knowledge and content. Multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions may arise. Exams focus on what happens in class as supplemented and amplified by the readings.

Written Work
Major outside written work for this course should be typed on plain white paper, double-spaced, single-side with one-inch margins and pages stapled together. The student's name(s) should appear only on the title page, which is separate within each manuscript, or on the back side of the last sheet (prof will select). Variation from this format is not permitted without advance consultation with the professor. Students present written ideas in their own words. Quotations are limited to 10% of the paper; use of quotations and ideas not the student's own requires proper citation. Written work is evaluated as 70% content (ideas, reasoning), 20% style (English, structure), and 10% format (care, neatness, references). A "fatal error" policy exists: Any paper or chapter that contains three or more spelling or grammatical errors (e.g., run-on sentences, capitalization misuse, indefinite reference) may not be graded. Therefore, please use a computer spell/grammar checker and proofread. The paper may be resubmitted within two class periods; a substantial grade penalty may accompany a paper with fatal errors. In order to avoid fatal error problems you may wish to consult a checklist. Minor outside written work (e.g., overnight essays) must be typed The student's name should be written only on the back side of the last sheet.

Work that is written for Web presentation should be presented in disk form.

Missing or Incomplete Performance
Except for group work, a single missed assignment must be made up within three calendar days or at some mutually agreeable time for professor and student. It is the student's responsibility to initiate this process. A second missed assignment cannot be made up and will be assigned a grade of zero. Each student has 7 "free" late days to be used in any combination, provided the student notifies the professor. That is, any combination of papers ---not quizzes or exams--- may be turned in without penalty up to a total of 7 days late. In the case of late group work, a group contract will be negotiated. A course grade of Incomplete may be recorded only in cases of verifiable medical distress, must be negotiated before the final exam, and must be made up within one academic semester. Individual contracts will be negotiated in the event of incomplete performance.

Students With Disabilities
Support services are available for students with disabilities, including but not limited to those who need assistance with vision, hearing, and mobility. It is my pleasure to receive your inquiries confidentially, the earlier the better.

The Singular Commandment
We want you to do well. Regardless of the pressures you may feel upon yourself, THOU SHALT NOT LIE, CHEAT, OR STEAL. This includes not using ideas of other persons without proper citation. Students engaged in such activities are subject to a failing grade for the course. Plagiarism is a kind of stealing behavior that is widely misunderstood. Students are expected to be aware of the Student Handbook statement on the topic and to absorb its discussion in class.

BIOL 111: Course Content and the Reasons for It

Outline of this section
The Nature of Science
The Nature of Biocatastrophes
The Readings and the Issues

Introduction: The Nature of Science
In contrast to art and religion, which have existed in human history for perhaps 30,000 years, science as a way of knowing is relatively new. Scientific practice in its present form is only about 400 years old. Galileo is credited with introducing into modern scientific thought the idea that evidence of the senses, rather than divinely inspired insight, is primary. Notions about science continue to change. Science has been defined as the study of reproducible events, a definition that unfortunately leaves out such important fields as ecology and evolution, which are not repeatable because we cannot repeat ecosystems or the universe. Today, largely influenced by the work of Karl Popper, we regard science as the testing of falsifiable hypotheses, that is, the formation and study of guiding principles which, if opposing evidence were discovered, could be disproved. Because scientific hypotheses always have the possibility of being proved false (they can never be proven true), certainty does not exist in science. The best, most solid ideas in science are theories. It is crucial that students understand the nature of falsifiability, evidence, hypothesis, and theory. Through discussion, demonstration, whimsy, and game theory (have you ever played Eleusis?), we will explore these basic ideas.

Introduction: The Nature of Biocatastrophes
We humans have found ourselves amidst a complicated universe, and there's no manual that came with this place to reveal to us rationally how everything works either externally or internally. With respect to the environment and its ecology, there's no way to start it all over and watch it develop...nor is there any evidence that, if we could do this, things would turn out the same a second time. So, scientists who observe the environment carefully are trying to construct a usable owner's manual so that we can understand this place and perhaps get better use out of it. Ten thousand years ago, when there were fewer of us around, things weren't any easier but the consequences of mistaken understanding were not global in scope. Now consequences do spread globally and that makes understanding science much more important. There are two ways we can influence the environment: Unintentionally through negligence or recklessness, or intentionally through ignorance and bioterrorism.

Biocatastrophes come in a number of forms which include, but are not limited to, invasions of organisms that were previously not part of a local ecosystem, seemingly unpredicatable epidemics of animal and plant diseases, population explosions, and extinctions. Biocatastrophes have a number of impacts, some of which are truly biological and others of which are psychological and social. Biological effects include, but are not limited to, those that influence nerves and heart, involve germs and viruses, alter the immune system, modify the way organisms relate to one another, and change the way we produce, distribute, and use food. Psychosocial effects include, but are not limited to, those that impact our perceptions about our surroundings. Effects resulting from perceptions may represent by far the greater impact. As an example, the death toll caused by last October's anthrax events was less than six. It was not an epidemic. The death toll from influenza over comparable time is on the order of 100 times as great. Various forms of the influenza virus have precipitated many epidemics. Question: Has illness from the present West Nile Virus invasion risen to epidemic proportions? Nevertheless, public worry about anthrax and the West Nile virus presently exceeds that about influenza. What are the comparative economic impacts of these diseases? The differences arise, in part, because we feel we understand the flu. We don't have the same feelings about anthrax and the West Nile virus. This course is designed to rectify those lacks of understanding.

The Readings and the Issues
Through this course we want to introduce you to scientific thinking --- specifically biological thinking. Of the many ways to do this, I've picked a couple of my favorite entries and you will explore and discover more on your own.

Even the best textbook readings tend to be pretty standard. This course invokes a variety of readings from experts who have written in a variety of formats. You don't have to agree with them; you do have to ponder what they've said. Some readings have the general public as their intended audience. These might be factual reports or reflective essays. Others are for professional scientists. Still others are personal journals. Individuals, including scientists, communicate thoughts across time and space through their writings. By reading from them, you may begin to perceive how scientists believe the world operates. That is, they will tell you about their chapters in the world's "owner's manual" referred to above.

Content Order and Staged Pedagogy

Outline of this section
Staging the Order
Learning Community Pedagogy

Staging the Order
Well-designed courses tend to have a text and a subtext. The text is the overt course content...the subject matter. It's what is found in most exams. The subtext contains the transferable baccalaureate skills. For this course, the subtext is writing, speaking, and critical thinking.

One can examine the syllabus to see how the text is developed. This course begins with some introductory definitions of science, and then initiates a search along four tracks of biocatastrophes: population invasions, epidemics, population explosions, and extinctions. That is, we'll examine the published literature out there ---both standard and casual--- to figure out how catastrophes happen naturally and artificially in the living environment. Then we'll compare both perception and reality to see if they are in register.

One can also examine the syllabus to see how the subtext is developed. One main focus is on writing. Specifically, this course will employ staged writing, a technique that develops critical thinking by challenging students to solve increasingly complex projects and write increasingly complex papers in order to engage increasingly complex thinking. Staged writing takes students from, "Can you recognize this situation?" to "What is your recommendation regarding this complex problem?" As you examine the syllabus, you will find staged writing and thinking threaded into the pedagogy.

Problem-Based Learning Pedagogy
This 100-level course implies first-year-college-level capabilities for enrollment and success. The amount of scaffolding surrounding student work will be commensurate with that appropriate for beginning collegiate standing. Pedagogy for Problem-Based Learning entails students taking substantial responsibility for directing their own learning, much of it through group work. Problem-Based Learning begins with a question. For example, the syllabus is constructed through student consultation and the actual questions in the syllabus are based on what you students say you want to ask. The scope is so large that you will probably choose to concentrate on one kind biocatastrophe. My role is to help you develop solid biological understanding so that you can successfully answer your question. Emphasis, therefore, is on informed discussion, social interaction, and a lot of active learning rather than mostly lecture. There is a term paper in this course, namely a Web publication. This may be constructed from several smaller papers of 1-3 page magnitude. You will work in groups of about five students. This arrangement permits multiple opportunities for feedback and should avoid the more common habit of procrastination followed by a crunch at the end. Please refer to the Ground Rules for independent grading practices.

Class discussion in BIOL 111 is intended to serve as a prelude to writing; writing is used as a tool for thinking. The exact position on any issue taken by students is less important than the reasoning marshaled in support of that position, which is crucial. Therefore, reading appropriate material before coming to class is expected. In order to provide an opportunity for deeper argument and synthesis, group consultation throughout is also strongly encouraged.


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