Fall 1999

Research Projects

 A tremendous amount of information is being dumped on us as we read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio, or watch television. Politicians, medical doctors, environmentalists, and producers of goods attempt to regulate what we do, what we eat, how we live, and how we get better when we are ill. It is extremely difficult for the average citizen to understand the mounds of information generated each day much less be able to make informed decisions about how to solve problems generated by the applications of science and technology that impinge upon our lives. The amount of information dealing with pollution, cancer, aging, infectious diseases, etc. and our general lack of scientific literacy have given many people a sense of helplessness in trying to understand even a little about what is happening to the individual, their families, their community, and the world as a whole. This problem is compounded when members of the government, business, and scientific communities are unable to agree among themselves as to how best to handle difficult questions as they arise.

In this course, we will look at a few real-life situations where problems involving science or the application of scientific technology have occurred. It will be your responsibility to try to propose possible solutions to a particular problem after analyzing, researching, and interpreting your research findings on the topic. I have gone through recent magazines and journals and have compiled a series of situations which involve problems containing conflicting opinions as to what has happened or how they are to be solved.  Some deal with environmental issues while others involve medical or health related matters. Each of you will be asked to choose and rank six topics that you would be interested in researching. This collection of real problems is located on reserve in the library and should be carefully evaluated by you before making your decisions. Once you have made your choices, I will organize the class into groups of four or five students based on common interest in a particular problem.

Each group will be given a period of two months to research the topic that they have chosen. Members will meet outside of class and periodically in class to:

a. Gather information pertinent to their topic.

b. Analyze, clarify and define the problem.

c. Decide what the possible ramifications are.

d. Propose possible solutions.

e. Choose one of the solutions and defend, it as a group, before the rest of the class.

Each member of the group is then required to write a paper describing how their life might be impacted by the information that they have discovered about their topic. The material for this paper is to come from each persons own research effort.

Two such projects will be completed during the fall semester. The first will be limited to areas associated with environmental and biotechnological problems while the second will be limited to medical and health issues.

The schedule is as follows:

                         First Project: Topics chosen and groups organized by Sept. 12
                                                Research completed by Oct. 18
                                                Group presentations on Oct. 27 and 29
                                                Individual papers are due on Oct. 29

Second Project : Topics chosen and groups organized by Nov. 8
                            Research completed by Dec. 6
                            Group presentations on Dec. 15 and 17
                            Individual papers are due on Dec. 17
 The evaluation of each project will be determined by level of group participation (50 pts) which in turn will based on your contribution to the research process and level of understanding of the topic during the in-class presentation and by the quality of your individual paper (50 pts). In the latter case, I will be looking at how you use the data that you collected during your research. I will also be looking at the construction of the paper, i.e., the spelling, grammar, and sentence structure, and accuracy in siting references.

 My role during each of the research projects will be to serve as a facilitator. I will provide hints as to how you might conduct your research strategy. I will also make suggestions as to sources of information to be explored. If you have questions or concerns, we will set aside time in class on Fridays and after class to answer those questions and to address your concerns.

 These projects should not be looked as a burden or simply as hurdles to jump over to pass the class. The effort spent on thinking about a few selected topics during the semester should help you understand a little better how science works or, in some cases, doesn't. It is my wish that you will become more informed about issues dealing with the environment, our health, and disease. I am also interested in having students go beyond the pattern of memorizing a few seemingly unrelated facts to be regurgitated on an exam and then forgotten. Instead, I hope each student will become a better evaluator of information, to critically analyze what you read, be better prepared to form opinions, and to propose solutions to problems as they occur.

 I look forward to working with you during the semester and hope that being in General Biology will be a rewarding experience.

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