IBI series winner. Students propose genetic solutions to societal problems.


I n the Foundations of Biology sequence for entering biological sciences majors at the University of Minnesota, inquiry-based learning is woven throughout the classroom and laboratory. During the fi rst semester lecture and discussion, students work in teams on a Genetic Engineering Proposal in which they propose a gene-based solution to a societal problem of their own choosing. Instructors coach the teams throughout the semester on experimental design and resources, as well as on data analysis, presentation strategies, team work, and research ethics. On the basis of outcomes from the nearly 3000 students who have taken the course over the past 6 years, the project has succeeded in engaging students in the intellectual work of biologists and the experience of science as creative inquiry. Our approach emphasizes both scientific teaching (1), an evidence-based approach to course design that applies principles of how people learn (2), and the importance of integrative biology courses (3). We also stress the higher-order skills in Bloom’s taxonomy of cognition: synthesis, evaluation, and creation (4). As in the University of Oregon’s “Workshop Biology” (5), we encourage student creativity by enabling teams to choose their own project topics. Our course design acknowledges the evidence that team-based learning delivers high learning gains and facilitates development of important life skills (6). This team-based class structure supports the growth of collaborative skills, including giving and receiving constructive feedback, and necessitates organization, initiative, and communication. As instructors, we are research mentors for teams and coaches for individuals. Moreover, with students in teams of nine working in a SCALE-UP (student-centered active learning environment for undergraduate programs) (7) classroom, we can ask students to accomplish collectively what would be beyond individual capabilities. The Genetic Engineering Proposal begins with each student in the team identifying a socially important issue for which genetic engineering could provide at least part of the solution, such as bioremediation of contaminated soil by enhanced plants or microbes, improved nutritional value in crops or livestock, or diagnosis and treatment of a disease. After literature searches, team discussions, and feedback from the faculty instructors, the team settles on a topic that they will jointly pursue for the remainder of the semester (see the top photo). The team must then use primary scientific literature, databases, and, sometimes, interviews with expert researchers to create a compelling argument for the value of the proposed project, to develop an experimental protocol to achieve the end product, and to describe the broader implications of the project, including ethical issues. They must also complete a phylogenetic analysis of their gene of interest or the donor or recipient organisms to address potential methodological problems, environmental impacts, or logical future studies. Students do not carry out the proposed experiments, which would typically take years to accomplish. However, the proposal enables students to do the sophisticated intellectual work typical of biologists and explore how science relates to society. They innovate, collaborate, and communicate at a level that transforms their experience of introductory biology and their relationships with one another and with their instructors. They apply what they are learning to solve realworld problems that are important to them and thus experience the relevance of biology concepts. Moreover, the project is inherently integrative, bringing course topics together with information that students locate themselves. Expecting students to begin doing the intellectual work of a biologist inspires them and helps them understand early in their education what a biologist does. Students have tackled a range of socially important issues [see supplementary materials (SM)]. Even though some project themes A team plans their project poster (top); team members at the poster presentations (bottom).

DOI: 10.1126/science.1230002

Cite this paper

@article{Wick2013IBISW, title={IBI series winner. Students propose genetic solutions to societal problems.}, author={Sue Wick and Mark H. Decker and David Matthes and Robin L Wright}, journal={Science}, year={2013}, volume={341 6153}, pages={1467-8} }