This week in The Herald: Introductory science education at Brown

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This week, The Herald is running a four-part series examining students’ experiences in introductory science courses at Brown.

This topic is particularly relevant now — nearly 60 percent of the class of students that Brown admitted this year expressed the intent to concentrate in the sciences. The Committee on Educational Innovation, one of the strategic planning committees formed under Christina Paxson this fall, identified science, technology, engineering, and math fields as a key area of focus in the strategic planning process.

Improving undergraduate science education has also been an area of recent national concern, with a growing amount of press devoted to high attrition rates in certain STEM fields. In 2011, the Association of American Universities announced it would undertake a five-year initiative to improve STEM education at its member institutions, including Brown.

Introductory courses enroll significant percentages of the student body each semester. In spring 2011, for example, nearly one-fifth of the freshman class enrolled in BIOL 0200: “The Foundation of Living Systems.”

Through this series, The Herald hopes to highlight potential problems with such large, heterogeneous courses as well as to explore aspects of courses that students and professors have found particularly effective. Tuesday’s story provided an overview of the benefits and disadvantages of large lecture courses and how different departments structure their introductory sequences. Wednesday’s story unpacks the divide in the number of students who take physical and life science courses as electives, and Thursday’s story will examine reasons why students stop pursuing certain disciplines. On Friday, the final story in the series will explore potential changes to how science is taught at Brown in the future.

We hope these stories stimulate discussion about science education and introductory education in general. We welcome your opinions and input in comments or letters to the editor.

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