Given the radical changes in the nature of the science of biology and what we have learned about effective ways to teach, this is an opportune time to address the biology we teach so that it better represents the biology we do.
For more than a decade, numerous reports have called for a rethinking and restructuring of high school and undergraduate science education to make it more relevant and accessible to a broader spectrum of students (Handelsman et al., 2006 ; Hulleman and Harackiewicz, 2009 ; National Research Council [NRC], 1996 , 1997 , 1998 , 2002 , 2003a ,b ,c , 2005 , 2008 ; National Science Foundation [NSF], 1996 ) and to base our strategies on the expanding body of research on human learning and cognition (NRC, 2000b ; Allen and Tanner, 2007 ; Morse and Jutras, 2008 ; DeHaan, 2009 , Pfund et al., 2009 , Labov et al., 2009 ). In 2009, several important publications, conferences, and events have pointed toward confluence around more interdisciplinary and interconnected approaches and themes for undergraduate education in the life sciences. These events have included the following:
Thus, throughout this past year, the life sciences community has focused its attention on where biological research is likely to progress over the next several decades and how education in the life sciences might keep pace with this rethinking of research priorities and progress. The NRC (2009) report offers the most comprehensive review of these sets of issues; its recommendations for research and education agendas are summarized below.
- Release of draft curriculum frameworks in biology for the College Board's multiyear restructuring of advanced placement courses in science for high school students (see http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/draft_revised_ap_biology_curriculum.pdf). This restructuring closely follows the recommendations of a report from the NRC (2002) and calls for teaching fewer concepts in greater depth. Restructuring also requires developing and implementing means to measure students' level of conceptual understanding (Mervis, 2009a ; Wood, 2009 ).
- Publication of Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians, a joint report from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Association of American Medical Colleges, which calls for a change in undergraduate science education away from a system based on courses to one based on “competencies.” According to the committee, “A competency-based approach will give both learners and educators more flexibility in the premedical curriculum and allow the development of more interdisciplinary and integrative courses that maintain scientific rigor, while providing a broad education.” (Executive Summary, p. 1)1
- Convening of “Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education,” a summit held in Washington, DC, in July 2009 that was organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science with support from the NSF. This summit brought together >500 people to consider future pathways for undergraduate education in the life sciences (Mervis, 2009b ; Woodin et al., 2009 ).2 A report from the summit is planned for release in 2010.
- Publication in September 2009 of A New Biology for the Twenty-First Century by a committee under the aegis of the NRC's Board on Life Sciences (NRC, 2009 ; a podcast about the report is available at http://dels.nas.edu/dels/viewreport.cgi?id=5953). The report proposes a bold new integrated research agenda, with important implications for the future of undergraduate and K–12 science education.
- Convening in November 2009 of an interdisciplinary forum on synthetic biology as part of the annual National Academies Keck Futures Initiative.3 Consistent with calls to find ways to develop science curricula in conjunction with cutting-edge scientific discoveries (Jurkowski et al., 2007 ), the forum actively considered issues of education and communication about synthetic biology in conjunction with discussions of scientific, legal, and ethical aspects. A report from this event will be published by the National Academies in 2010.