Connected Science: Strategies for Integrative Learning in College

By Tricia A. Ferrett; David R. Geelan et al. | Go to book overview

3
Public Health and Biochemistry
Connecting Content, Issues, and Values
for Majors

Matthew A. Fisher

One of the challenges when incorporating integrative learning experiences in the undergraduate science curriculum for majors is the widely held perception by faculty that such changes would require significant sacrifices in the content that students learn. In my experience, however, changes made in a biochemistry course sequence for biochemistry, biology, and chemistry majors allowed the introduction of integrative learning opportunities without the loss of course disciplinary content. The revised sequence accomplished this goal by framing course content in the context of pressing public health issues such as Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, and influenza. The revised courses challenged students to look at these issues from the perspective of biochemistry as well as other disciplines, their personal values, and institutional values.

Students have no problem anticipating that biochemistry will have a significant connection to what they are interested in, care about, and encounter on a daily basis; however, biochemistry textbooks and courses have traditionally steered clear of nondisciplinary discussions of the complexity of diseases such as AIDS and malaria or of malnutrition. The content of undergraduate biochemistry courses is thus most commonly presented in a manner that is largely disconnected from real-world contexts. Without a textbook or course pedagogy that makes clear these connections and establishes a context for knowledge, the stage is set for a pathology of learning that Lee Shulman (1999) has described as inertia—an inability to use what has been learned. There are several studies that clearly and persuasively argue that traditional curricula in chemistry (see Cooper, 2010 for a summary) and biology (National Research Council, 2003) include too much content and the result is often the inertia

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