The following is a short list of papers relevant to undergraduate Life Sciences education and Vision and Change. The list is intended to stimulate discussion within departments as they embark on V&C educational reform.

Linked Papers:

Achieving Systemic Change. This sourcebook by The Coalition for Reform of Undergraduate STEM Education is intended as a useful resource for all who have a stake in creating STEM solutions for US society. It addresses the rationale for investing in systemic change throughout higher education, identifies critical areas for investment, and provides pointers to key reports and current STEM education reform efforts.

Allen, D., and Tanner, K. (2005). Infusing active learning into the large-enrollment biology class: seven strategies, from the simple to complex. Cell Biol. Educ. 4, 262–268. 

Armbruster, P., Patel, M., Johnson, E., and M. Weiss. (2009).Active Learning and Student-centered Pedagogy Improve Student Attitudes and Performance in Introductory Biology. CBE Life Sci Educ. 8, 203-213.

Brownell, et al. (2014) Biocore Guide: A Tool for Interpreting the Core Concepts of Vision and Change for Biology Majors, CBE Life Sci Educ June 2, 2014 13:200-211; doi:10.1187/cbe.13-12-0233.

Derting,T.L., Ebert-May, D. (2010). Learner-Centered Inquiry in Undergraduate Biology: Positive Relationships with Long-Term Student Achievement. CBE Life Sciences Education, 9: 462–472.

Freeman, S, Eddy, S., McDonough, M, Smith, M, Okoroafor, N, and M.P. Wenderoth (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS, early edition.

Gregory, et al. (2011). Redesigning Introductory Biology: A Proposal
The purpose of this study was to identify a minimal set of topics that should be covered in depth in introductory biology courses by surveying faculty from two and four year institutions.  Decreasing the breadth of topics covered in introductory biology courses will free up time to actively engage students in the classroom.  742 survey respondents indicated that introductory biology courses should cover 23 topics with the following topics covered in greater depth: evolution, cell structure, DNA structure and replication, mitosis, meiosis, Mendelian genetics, cell cycle, protein synthesis, membranes and transport, respiration, photosynthesis, and enzymes.  96% of the survey respondents also agreed that an experimental lab component should also be included in the introductory courses.

Knight, J.K., Wood W.B. (2005). Teaching more by lecturing less. Cell Biology Education, 4(4):298-310.

Kotter, JP. (2007). Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review January, 2007.

McClanahan, E.B, and L.L. McClanahan (2002) Active-Learning in a Non-majors Classroom: Lessons Learned. College Teaching 50: 92.

Simurda (2012). Does the Transition to an Active-Learning Environment for the Introductory Course Reduce Students' Overall Knowledge of the Various Disciplines in Biology?
The purpose of this study was to determine if decreasing breadth and increasing depth of content in introductory biology lectures and adding investigative projects to the laboratory impacted student’s broad knowledge of Biology.  Decreasing breadth of topics covered in lecture permitted instructors to devote more in-class time to active learning.  The investigative projects in the laboratory enabled instructors to focus more on data analysis and scientific writing.  Grades earned by graduating seniors who took the Educational Testing Services’ Major Field Test in Biology were evaluated to assess the impact of these curricular changes on their comprehensive knowledge of biology.  The overall scores the students earned on the exam did not change significantly after the implementation of the new introductory biology curriculum.

Tsaushu, M., Tal, T., Sagy, O, Kali,Y., Gepstein, S., and D. Zilberstein. (2012). Peer Learning and Support of Technology in an Undergraduate Biology Course to Enhance Deep Learning. CBE Life Sciences Education, 11: 402–412.


  • Wood, WB. (2009). Innovations in Undergraduate Teaching and Why We Need Them. Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology 25:93-112. Abstract: A growing revolution is under way in the teaching of introductory science to undergraduates. It is driven by concerns about American competitiveness as well as results from recent educational research, which explains why traditional teaching approaches in large classes fail to reach many students and provides a basis for designing improved methods of instruction. Discipline-based educational research in the life sciences and other areas has identified several innovative promising practices and demonstrated their effectiveness for increasing student learning. Their widespread adoption could have a major impact on the introductory training of biology students.
  • Handelsman, J., D., Ebert-May, R., Beichner, P., Bruns, A., Chang, R., DeHaan, J., Gentile, S., Lauffer, J., Stewart, J., Tilghman, S.M., and Wood, W.B. (2004). Scientific Teaching. Science 304: 521–522. Abstract: For more than a decade, reports from expert panels have called for improvements in science education. There is general agreement that science courses consisting of traditional lectures and cookbook laboratory exercises need to be changed. What is required instead is "scientific teaching," teaching that mirrors science at its best-experimental, rigorous, and based on evidence. This Policy Forum explores the reasons for the slow pace of change in the way science is taught at research universities and offers recommendations for faculty, staff, and administrators at research universities, funding agencies, and professional organizations in order to accelerate the reform of science education. To help faculty initiate change in their own classrooms, this forum includes extensive resources to guide the transition to tested, effective instructional methods, which include group-learning in lectures, inquiry-based laboratories, and interactive computer modules.
  • Brownell, S. and Tanner, K.. (2012). Barriers to Faculty Pedagogical Change" Lack of Training, Time, Incentives, and...Tensions with Professional Identity? CBE-Life Sciences Education 11: 339-346. This paper reviews literature on barriers to STEM pedagogical change, and introduces an important consideration of professional identity as an impediment.
  • Ruiz-Primo, M.A., Briggs, D., Iverson, H., Talbot, R., Shepard, L.A. (2011). Impact of undergraduate science course innovations on learning. Science 331: 1269–1270.
    Abstract: At many colleges and universities, the traditional model of science instruction—a professor lecturing a large group of students—is being transformed into one in which students play a more active role in learning. This has been attributed to mounting evidence that traditional lectures, recitations, and laboratory sessions do not guarantee that students develop deep understanding of critical concepts.
  • Haak, D.C., HilleRisLambers, J., Pitre, E., and Freeman, S. (2011). Increased Structure and Active Learning Reduce the Achievement Gap in Introductory Biology. Science, 332: 1213-1216. Abstract: Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics instructors have been charged with improving the performance and retention of students from diverse backgrounds. To date, programs that close the achievement gap between students from disadvantaged versus nondisadvantaged educational backgrounds have required extensive extramural funding. We show that a highly structured course design, based on daily and weekly practice with problem-solving, data analysis, and other higher-order cognitive skills, improved the performance of all students in a college-level introductory biology class and reduced the achievement gap between disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged students--without increased expenditures. These results support the Carnegie Hall hypothesis: Intensive practice, via active-learning exercises, has a disproportionate benefit for capable but poorly prepared students.
  • Burrowes, P.A. (2003). A Student-Centered Approach to Teaching General Biology That Really Works: Lord's Constructivist Model Put to a Test. The American Biology Teacher, 65: 491– 502. This paper describes the results of a controlled experiment that tested the effectiveness of Lord's teaching model in: (a) helping students achieve better grades on standard midterm exams; (b) developing higher level thinking skills; and (c) modifying attitudes towards biology at a large urban university.

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