"Biology Education"-An Emerging Interdisciplinary Area of Research

By Rutledge, Michael | Journal of College Science Teaching, January-February 2013 | Go to article overview

"Biology Education"-An Emerging Interdisciplinary Area of Research


Rutledge, Michael, Journal of College Science Teaching


The engagement of faculty within traditional scientific disciplines in research at the interface of science and education has been uneven. Historically, research in the area of "biology education" has largely been conducted by scholars with academic backgrounds in "science education" who are typically affiliated with schools of education (National Research Council, 2005; Webb, 2007). However, biology education is increasingly recognized as a relevant area of research for "traditional" biologists interested in issues at the interface of biology and education (Dancy & Beichner, 2002; Offerdahl, 2011). Although the engagement of biology faculty in discipline-based educational research has been a growing trend over the past few decades--echoing previous trends in chemistry and physics (Bodner & Herron, 1984; McDermott & Redish, 1999)--recent, explicit calls for a scientific approach to be brought to educational research has served to formalize biology education as an emerging subdiscipline of biology, one in which the knowledge, experiences, and insights of biologists are needed to advance and potentiate the field (Dirks, 2011; National Research Council, 2005; Stagg, 2008).

Perhaps the most significant indicator of the emergence of biology education as a distinct subdiscipline of biology is the growth in the number of faculty positions established for individuals with this specialization within biology departments (Bush et al., 2006). Over the past decade, position searches for full-time, tenure-track biology faculty with specializations in biology education have been conducted at an array of universities (Figure 1). The position descriptions for these faculty lines encourage applications from individuals who can teach introductory courses in biology and/or teaching methods courses specifically designed for students who are seeking teacher certification and who can conduct research in the field of biology education. Faculty possessing these qualities are sometimes referred to as science faculty with education specializations (Bush et al., 2006). Significantly, Bush et al. (2006) reported that many of these biology education position searches have gone unfilled, partially because of the lack of qualified candidates.

Biology education is an interdisciplinary area of study, blending aspects of biology, educational theory, cognitive science, and educational research methodologies to improve the teaching and learning of biological principles (Stagg, 2008). Areas of active research/scholarship in biology education include the following:

* development and assessment of content-specific, active-learning strategies and curricula (Armbruster, Patel, Johnson, & Weiss, 2009; Michael, 2006; Wood, 2009);

* identification of curricula and instructional approaches that help students understand how biological studies are designed and conducted (Alberts, 2009; National Research Council, 2003);

* construction of assessment tools that elucidate how people conceive important biological concepts and principles (D'Avanzo, 2008; Smith & Tanner, 2010);

* identification of instructional practices that promote student retention in the field of biology (Koenig, 2009; Wischusen, Wischusen, & Pomarico, 2010);

* development of instructional strategies and curricula that support effective instruction in evolutionary theory--the unifying theory of the field (Nelson, 2008; Smith, 2010);

* elucidation of preconceptions and misconceptions of important biological concepts and the development of instructional approaches and strategies to address them (Garvin-Doxas & Klymkowsky, 2008; Nehm & Reilly, 2007); and

* identification of the array of courses and field experiences that result in the production of highly effective biology educators (Deng, 2007; Friedrichsen et al., 2009; Wilson, Floden, & Ferrini-Mundy, 2002).

Although the knowledge, skills, and experiences needed to prepare individuals to conduct research in biology education can be obtained through traditional doctoral programs in biology or in science education, they may be more efficiently developed through a program focused directly on this emerging field. …

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