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Research & Teaching

Low-Level Learning

Leaving Behind Nonscience Majors

Journal of College Science Teaching—Fall 2023 (Volume 52, Issue 7)

By Austin Heil, Cara Gormally, and Peggy Brickman

More than 8 out of every 10 college students are not STEM majors, yet we have little understanding about learning expectations for them. We used the results of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute BioInteractive learning objectives survey of 38 instructors teaching nonscience major courses to characterize learning objectives (LOs) in these courses. The survey included demographics questions, and instructors were asked to contribute at least 10 LOs from their nonscience major introductory biology course. We coded the LOs (n = 872) for Bloom’s level, content area, and competencies related to Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education. As a comparison, we coded LOs (n = 1390) from three best-selling textbooks for nonscience majors. We found that most instructors report creating LOs themselves, and most share LOs with students. Overall, 80% of LOs focus on low-level thinking skills. Few LOs (11.5%) from instructors or textbooks focused on science process skills that students might use in everyday life to make science-informed decisions. Our findings indicate a need to revisit the goals of instruction for nonscience majors—the vast majority of people in our society.

Biology Preservice Science Education STEM

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