Yale introduces survey science courses

A new set of science survey courses will debut next fall, with the goal of improving the introductions to various scientific fields in Yale’s undergraduate curriculum.

Three new survey courses — one in engineering and two in biology — will each seek to provide freshmen with broader entries into scientific studies at the University. Though specific departments have introductory classes, the only integrated undergraduate survey course Yale currently offers in the sciences is “Perspectives on Science and Engineering” — a yearlong lecture series on various areas of active scientific research that students apply to before starting their freshman year. Associate Provost for Science and Technology Timothy O’Connor praised the development of the three new survey courses, which he called “independent grassroots efforts” and said will strengthen science offerings for freshmen.

“All three courses reflect the trend towards becoming more interdisciplinary … and developing more innovative pedagogical methods and approaches,” O’Connor said. “The fact that [reports] have shown that the quality of introductory courses is key to increasing the retention of [science and engineering] majors makes these new courses especially valuable.”

The School of Engineering & Applied Science will offer a new engineering course that examines the design process common to all of the engineering fields, while Yale’s biology departments will offer two new classes: one that provides a research-based study of molecular and cellular biology and general chemistry, and another that surveys all of the biological sciences.

John Morrell, a professor of mechanical engineering who will teach the survey course on engineering design, said the class seeks to help students learn concepts and skills that apply to the entire field of engineering, such as data acquisition and sensors, as well as the fundamentals specific to disciplines within the field.

Morrell said the engineering course will be worth a full credit and also incorporate a laboratory component that alternates with lectures. He said since engineering classes are not as prevalent as other science classes in high schools, students are less likely to be familiar with the engineering discipline, making the new course even more crucial. He added that the course will not be required for engineering majors in the 2012-’13 academic year.

T. Kyle Vanderlick, dean of the engineering school, said the new engineering course will advance a human-centered approach to design, in which engineers gear their research and technological developments toward addressing specific issues, rather than “building technology for technology’s sake.” She added that the focus on real-world problem solving at the engineering school is one key area where Yale’s school excels relative to its peer institutions.

The two new biology courses will follow different formats from both the engineering course, and from each other.

In the course on biology and chemistry, “Drains and Dirt to Microbes and Molecules,” students will collect soil samples on campus to conduct research on antibiotics, in addition to attending traditional lab training and lectures. Molecular, cellular and developmental biology professor Jo Handelsman, who will co-teach the class with chemistry professor Andrew Phillips, said the research aspect of the course is designed to help students feel more invested in their work, and to experience course material in a practical manner. She added that a great amount of research on science education supports this learning style, including a White House report released February by a working group that she led.

Tiffany Tsang, a postdoctoral student who is helping to develop and teach the biology and chemistry course, said she hopes its format will better engage students and attract more freshmen to science majors who may otherwise be deterred by dry introductory lectures.

The course surveying all the biological sciences will be taught collaboratively by professors from Yale’s three biology departments: Michael Koelle in molecular biology and biophysics, Leo Buss in ecology and evolutionary biology, and Frank Slack and Mark Mooseker in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. The four professors will work to integrate essential material from each department into the course, E&EB Department chair Paul Turner said.

“It will be a unified course where all the instructors are interested in working together to cover a wide range of topics,” Turner said. “There’s a fundamental difference between taking that and taking each department’s intro course separately.”

Students who major in either MCDB or E&EB are currently required to take each department’s introductory course unless they have received a score of 5 on the Advanced Placement biology exam. But next year, Turner said Yale will require students to take a more rigorous placement examination to skip the old MCDB and E&EB introductory courses, rather than allowing those with AP scores of 5 to place out automatically. He added that the combination of the placement exam and the biological sciences survey course will help the department ensure that biology majors develop a stronger foundation during their freshman year.

“Perspectives on Science and Engineering” currently has 57 students enrolled.

Comments

  • CharlieWalls

    Playing in dirt to find an interest in science seems an odd approach for Yale, which is a university–not a pre-school. If the admissions system can sort out people with athletic interests, to feed the excellent sporting variety there, I would think entering classes might also contain sufficient numbers with science interests. Moreover, nothing is more off-putting than being lectured to, when you want to actually getting into something to think about. Yale should spend about zero time recruiting science types from a class already there, and assure those there with an interest speedy entrance to a marvelous world.

    • yalengineer

      One could say the same about collecting plants in a rainforest. That has the opposite effect of what you are suggesting.

  • yalengineer

    So basically we have now have DS for science geeks.