In the spirit of evolution, the University of Richmond biology department is planning to rewrite the curriculum for biology majors. The changes, if passed by the university's Academic Council, would go into effect for the 2008 fall semester.
"Biology is a broad and rapidly changing field," said Roni Kingsley, an associate professor of biology. "We're changing with it."
Currently the core program of the major consists of four classes to be completed by the end of a student's sophomore year -- genetics, along with cell and molecular biology classes and then two courses of integrative biology.
The new major would have one introductory course that everyone would take called "Introduction to Biological Thinking." Kingsley said the specific subject of IBT courses would change each semester, and the professors who teach the class will structure it around their interests and specialties.
"Biology principles and skills are applicable to a variety of situations," Kingsley said. "It's important that biology students are comfortable with critical thinking and synthesizing information, and the IBT courses will allow us to teach that."
Kingsley also said diverse IBT courses would discuss the way scientists inquire and discover.
"It will be different content with the same themes," she said. "We want students to learn how biologists think."
After taking an IBT course, students majoring in biology would be required to take a course in each of the conceptual areas, which include genetics, cellular and molecular biology, evolution, diversity and ecology and organismal biology. Students would also be required to take five more advanced courses.
Senior Amy Hart, a biology major, said she thought the changes would be good for students working in the department.
"For two years of the major you have to take things you may not want to take," Hart said. "This would be good because students could choose to take courses that they're interested in."
Kingsley said making the major more flexible was one of the goals when the curriculum was redesigned. She said the committee working on the changes wanted to allow students to get into upper-level classes earlier.
The committee's members, which included three other biology professors, also said they hoped that IBT courses would draw more interest to the major and allow upperclassmen to explore other fields.
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Hart said she probably wouldn't be interested in an IBT course after her first year.
"Because it's probably more of a foundation for what students will encounter later in the major, I think upperclassmen would find it redundant," she said. "Plus with nine other classes to complete the major, I don't think I would have time to go back."
Although Kingsley hopes the changes would be in effect next fall, students who declare a major in biology before the start of next fall will remain on the old major plan. University registrar Susan Breeden said the changes would not be difficult to implement.
"Departments are changing their curriculum all of the time," she said. "Scheduling won't be that different."
Kingsley said all of the biology faculty members are excited about the changes, especially about the IBT courses.
Hart said she believed the changes would strengthen the department.
Said Hart: "The biology department is strong right now, but I think it would be nice to explore other fields within the major"
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