Green Sheet:CEPC 05/06-11
To: St. Olaf College Faculty
Re: Proposed Revisions to the General Education Requirement for “Studies in Natural Science”
At the May 4, 2006 Faculty Meeting, CEPC will move the adoption of new statements to define the general education requirement for “Studies in Natural Science,” a two-course requirement that includes one course in “Scientific Exploration and Discovery” (SED-x) and one course on “Integrated Scientific Topics” (IST-x). The motion includes (1) description, (2) guidelines, (3) comments, (4) intended learning outcomes, (5) a rationale for the requirement as part of the College’s general education curriculum, and (6) a rationale for a two-course requirement. A rationale for the motion as a whole follows.
CEPC will further move that if these changes are approved, the new SED-x and IST-x requirements will become elements of a set of revised GE requirements that will be implemented as a group beginning in Fall 2007.
Content of the motion :
Studies in Natural Science (SED-x and IST-x) (Core Studies)
Studies in Natural Science: Two courses, each from a different department or program, that develop an integrativeunderstanding of scientific content , scientific principles, and the methods of contemporary natural science. At least one must be a Scientific Exploration and Discovery (SED) course, and at least one must be an Integrated Scientific Topics (IST) course.
- A course meeting the Studies in Natural Science requirement may be designated as a Scientific Exploration and Discovery (SED-x) course, an Integrated Scientific Topics (IST-x) course, or both. Students must complete at least one SED course and one IST course, or one course with both attributes and a second course with either attribute, in order to fulfill the requirement.
A. Scientific Exploration and Discovery (SED-x)
- Courses must focus on scientific content and scientific principles in a disciplinary or interdisciplinary field within the natural sciences.
- Courses must engage students in the methods of contemporary natural science by providing a project-based exploration and discovery experience.
- Courses must engage students in the written and/or oral communication of scientific findings.
- SED courses are intended to promote scientific literacy by developing an understanding of a specific disciplinary or interdisciplinary field within the natural sciences. Courses should introduce concepts and theories such that students are able to use scientific language appropriately, think coherently about science, engage in meaningful scientific conversation, and place their knowledge into a context of broader scientific understanding.
In addition, SED courses should illustrate the nature of scientific understanding. They should make explicit that ideas, theories and hypotheses are subject to experimental test, and convey an understanding of scientific knowledge as the product of a working consensus.
- Project-based exploration and discovery experiences consist of hands-on exercises through which students learn to formulate scientific questions, design and conduct appropriate experiments, and collect, analyze, interpret, and communicate data. These experiences should also help students develop an appreciation of the relationship between technology and scientific advancement through the appropriate and thoughtful use of scientific instrumentation to make measurements or assist in observations. Courses that carry the SED attribute require that students spend time in a laboratory and/or field setting; a minimum of 20 hours per semester is suggested. Thus, SED courses will have laboratory hours and spaces assigned, although some courses may schedule blocks of time in appropriate spaces in order to facilitate a seamless lecture, discussion, and experimentation environment.
- The natural science requirement is also intended to develop skills in effective scientific communication. Students’ oral and/or written presentation assignments should provide students with opportunities to place facts, findings, and ideas into a conceptual framework.
Intended Learning Outcomes :
Students will demonstrate:
- Knowledge of scientific content and scientific principles in a disciplinary or interdisciplinary field within the natural sciences.
- Proficiency in the application of the scientific method, including the appropriate collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, and effective communication of findings.
- An ability to use scientific terminology appropriately in meaningful scientific dialogue.
- An understanding of the process of science as an intellectual pursuit and of the ways in which scientific ideas evolve and come to be accepted.
B. Integrated Scientific Topics (IST-x)
- Courses must focus on scientific content and scientific principles from one or more fields within the natural sciences with respect to one or more specific topics.
- Courses must incorporate a variety of disciplinary perspectives, within or in addition to the natural sciences, on the topic(s) being investigated.
- IST courses are intended to promote scientific literacy by developing a natural science understanding of a specific issue or topic. Such courses must examine that issue or topic from its scientific basis using texts, papers, demonstrations, and/or hands-on experience as appropriate for the topic. They should engage students in meaningful scientific dialogue that emphasizes the appropriate use of scientific terminology.
- IST courses may promote integration among varying natural sciences, across these disciplines and other liberal arts disciplines, or both. Courses emphasizing integration among the natural sciences may consider a topic principally from the perspective of a single scientific discipline while introducing examples and applications from other scientific disciplines, or may consider a topic from the perspective of an inherently interdisciplinary field such as neuroscience or bioinformatics. Proposals for IST courses emphasizing integration within the natural sciences should describe clearly the interdisciplinary treatment of course topics.
Other IST courses may have a component integrating natural science with perspectives, concepts, or methods from other liberal arts disciplines, such as philosophy, history, mathematics, political science, computer science, theology, statistics, literature, or the arts. In order to be accredited for IST, a majority of the substance of the course must consist of scientific content , scientific principles, and/or the methods of contemporary natural science. Proposals for IST courses emphasizing integration across the natural sciences and other liberal arts disciplines should provide evidence of sufficient scientific content while also indicating how integration with other disciplines will be achieved.
Intended Learning Outcomes :
Students will demonstrate:
- An ability to use concepts and tools from one or more natural sciences to understand an issue or topic.
- An ability to use a variety of disciplinary perspectives, within or in addition to the natural sciences, to understand an issue or topic.
- An ability to use scientific terminology appropriately in meaningful scientific dialogue.
Rationale for a “Studies in Natural Science” requirement :
The 21 st century is a time of accelerated technological development and rapid accumulation of scientific knowledge, a time of unprecedented ability to observe, monitor, and modify life. Enhanced computational capabilities and sophisticated new instrumentation have opened up entirely new interdisciplinary fields (e.g. bioinformatics) and have launched many of the traditional disciplines in fascinating new directions. Science and technology are playing an increasingly visible role in daily life, from the ability to self-diagnose medical problems on the internet to the debate on the ethics of stem cell research. In the face of shrinking effective distances among people and nations, creative scientific propositions are necessary to address pressing worldwide issues such as global warming, the management of genetically modified organisms, or the containment of infectious diseases. Clearly, these and many other issues are informed in critical ways by fundamental scientific considerations. The educated citizen must understand the form of scientific inquiry and debate, must be able to formulate relevant questions, and must know the means by which to access current knowledge and expertise.
There is in science a continuous interplay between theory and observation, in which models are tested against specific numerical data. This process reveals the beauty and complexity of the natural world in ways that are not otherwise attainable. The natural science requirement at St. Olaf must therefore provide an opportunity for students to engage in meaningful scientific inquiry, to learn the grammar and form of investigation, from formulation to observation to interpretation to communication.
Rationale for requiring two courses in the natural sciences :
There are several reasons for requiring two courses in the natural sciences. First, the breadth of fields and topics of study in the natural sciences is immense; asking students to undertake two such learning opportunities seems modest. Second, the ubiquitous nature of science in society warrants at least two opportunities for formal instruction in the natural sciences. Finally, on a practical level it requires more than one course to meet the learning objectives (students learn to speak science, do science, impart science, and connect science) in a satisfactory manner.
Rationale for the motion:
Dean May’s task force on General Education called for the reinvigoration of campus conversation about GE. It called for even more public statements of the convictions that underlie the curriculum. And it called for specific review of a short list of requirements. In response to these recommendations, CEPC has overseen a process of review of the guidelines and descriptions for several GE requirements (PHA, MAR, NST, MCS, BTS-T, BTS-B).
The present statements were drafted by CEPC on the basis of recommendations from a working group on NST (Associate Dean Van Wylen, NSM Chairs and former Chairs: Gross, Huff, Jacobel, Pearson, Walczak, A. Walter, and Zorn, and Professors Grenberg, Judge, and Nichol). Responding to suggestions from the Dean’s task force, CEPC asked this working group in particular to address the following questions concerning the original NST requirement: First, what is the rationale for requiring two courses in natural science? Second, why must the two courses be in different disciplinary or interdisciplinary fields? Third, given the interdisciplinary state of research in natural science, is there a rationale for requiring one course to be in one of three specific departments (physics, chemistry, or biology)?
The response to the first question is incorporated above, in the motion. In response to the second question, the working group – with the support of the majority of faculty in the NSM – found it desirable that students achieve a broad education in the natural sciences. Taking two courses in a single department or program, even if one of the courses carries the IST attribute, does not guarantee that breadth. For example, a student taking CHEM 111: Chemistry and the World as an SED course and CHEM 120: Chemistry of Life’s Beginnings as an IST course would repeat much of the basic information on atoms and molecules.
There are two responses to the third question. First, with the inclusion of psychology in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and with the emergence of interdisciplinary fields such as environmental studies, neuroscience, and biomolecular science, it no longer makes sense to single out biology, chemistry, and physics as being more worthy of study than other domains of scientific inquiry.
Second, the revised natural science requirement is rooted in r esearch about how students learn science. The research shows that such learning requires, among other things, experience with the processes of scientific inquiry (experimental design, appropriate use of scientific equipment, data collection/analysis, social collaboration) that are the key elements of the culture of science.
These findings suggest that it is more important that a student get a good hands-on experience in the lab than whether this happens in biology, chemistry, or physics. The revised requirement is structured accordingly.
Existing Courses and the SED/IST Requirement
Examples of existing courses that could, either as currently taught or with modest modification, fulfill either the SED or IST requirement are shown in the table below:
It is likely that some courses will carry both the SED and IST attributes. In such cases, a student will need a second natural science course to graduate, but it can carry either an SED or IST. The following are examples of existing courses that could, either as currently taught or with modest modification, carry both SED and IST attributes:
- Analytical Physics
- Issues in Biology
- Forensic Science
- Environmental Chemistry
- Biology and Theology: Making Meaning from Mystery
- Biochemistry (with lab)
- Biophysical Chemistry
- Molecular Biology
- Quantum Mechanics
The revised natural science requirement recognizes that modern science has become increasingly interdisciplinary; many important scientific problems require expertise from more than one traditional science discipline, or from disciplines beyond the natural sciences. Furthermore, research suggests that students experience “learning that lasts” in the natural sciences when they are given opportunities to reflect metacognitively on their own thinking and participation in scientific endeavors, making connections between the new knowledge they are acquiring and their existing knowledge in other domains. The addition of IST courses to the general education curriculum in natural science is thus more faithful to the evolution of the natural science disciplines and is likely to improve student learning.
The revised requirement in the natural sciences is singularly consistent with the College’s identity as a liberal arts institution and its commitment to interdisciplinary study. With the full implementation of this requirement, a science education at St. Olaf will be expanded to include the practice of scientific integration, providing an opportunity to focus on a topic that emphasizes multiple levels of scientific understanding and broader connections with the other liberal arts. The integrative dimension is a signature element of the revised requirement and places St. Olaf on the cutting edge of postsecondary science education.
Bransford, J. D. and Donovan, M. S, Scientific Inquiry and How People Learn, in How Students Learn History, Mathematics and Science in the Classroom, Donovan, M.S. and Bransford, J.D. editors, National Research Council, National Academies Press, Washington D.C., 2005.