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Bio dept. introduces new ‘gateway’ courses

Complaints over old introductory biology lectures have led to the addition of new, more hands-on courses.
Complaints over old introductory biology lectures have led to the addition of new, more hands-on courses.

Dan Kiehart, chair of the biology department, knew his undergraduate program needed a change.

In the past, many students have found the biology courses at the University to be just like high school courses—except harder, he said. Changes to the major’s requirements this Fall aim to provide a more hands-on learning experience.

“A large fraction of students plan on being science majors, but don’t. Why?” Kiehart said. “We found the old model of lecturing not really effective.” He added that the new courses will integrate “scientific teaching, active learning and group interaction.”

The new courses are BIO 101L: “Gateway to Biology: Molecular Biology” and BIO 102L: “Gateway to Biology: Evolution and Genetics.” The courses are required for students who matriculate to Duke in Fall 2010 and later in order to complete the biology major. BIO 25L, 116 and 118 will no longer be offered.

The new courses will cover fewer topics than previous introductory classes but will go more in depth, said Paul Manos, director of undergraduate studies for the biology department.

Students who enrolled at the University before 2010 will also be affected by the changes. For undergraduates who have not taken any biology classes, BIO 101L and BIO 102L—the new “gateway” courses—are required in addition to a class in ecology. Information for students who have taken some but not all of the introductory courses is available on the department’s website.

In order to ensure that all biology majors establish a good foundation in the subject, Advanced Placement credit will not satisfy the new requirements, Manos said.

“I think that AP credit is uneven,” he said. “Every high school biology curriculum is different. It is important that students begin on the same page.”

Both new classes have been in high demand this Fall. As of Wednesday night, 312 of 320 seats in BIO 101L and 114 of 120 slots for BIO 102L were filled. Additional labs had to be added over the summer to accommodate all of the science majors and pre-med students, Kiehart said. The department initially underestimated the number of seats that would be filled in the Fall but has worked to ensure all students interested can enroll in the course.

“I was lucky enough to get off of the waitlist over the summer,” said sophomore Mason Reynolds. “The biology department went to great lengths to accommodate student demand for space in the course.”

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