RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Richard Cardullo, a professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside, has been selected as a Vision and Change Leadership Fellow by the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE) program, a joint initiative of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Cardullo is one of 40 Vision and Change Leadership Fellows selected by PULSE. The fellows are tasked with identifying and considering how to eliminate barriers to the systemic changes needed to improve undergraduate life sciences education. They also will consider and recommend models for improving undergraduate life sciences education at the national level.
The 40 fellows -- all post-secondary life sciences faculty members -- were competitively selected by an expert panel for their experience in catalyzing reform in undergraduate biology education. More than 250 applications were evaluated.
Q&A with Cardullo
In your mind what are some of the biggest barriers to the systemic changes that are needed to improve undergraduate life science education?
Most college instructors today model their classes after their own experiences with the professor as a purveyor of information, the "sage on the stage." This approach has been used for generations but the advent of technology and access to almost limitless information has rendered this teaching style obsolete.
In order to better prepare our students in all science we must engage them as active learners. This means that professors, with the support of their institutions, need to abandon traditional lecture styles that have been shown to be ineffective in promoting meaningful learning in favor of practices that engage students in the actual process of science.
What is wrong with how biology is taught to undergraduates today?
Most students around the nation, including many at UC Riverside, expect that they will be given lists of terms and facts that they will memorize and then regurgitate on an exam. A major reason for this is that high stakes testing in courses and admission to graduate programs and medical schools were designed around this approach. This is not a scholarly activity and it certainly reaps little benefit for the student or society. Instead, we need to teach students the process of science whereby students gather their own information from reliable sources and then apply critical thinking skills to solve problems.
If we want to teach someone to become a musician, or just to appreciate music, we don't have them memorize the notes from some symphony, we engage them in listening or playing that music. Similarly, we are not going to make productive scientists, or produce an informed citizenry about the importance of science, by having students simply memorize a scientific lexicon. They need to be involved at a much higher level, one that includes them in the scientific endeavor.
In your mind, what would a transformed undergraduate education in the life sciences look like?
The typical classroom would look markedly different than what students are used to. The majority of the activity in the class would come not from the instructor but from the students themselves. Students would be encouraged to work in groups where they would discuss and argue amongst themselves to tackle difficult questions and pose solutions. In this scenario, the professor is a facilitator of the learning process opening up avenues for further exploration and discovery.
Cardullo served as the chair of the UC Riverside Department of Biology from 2004-2009. He was named a UCR Distinguished Teaching Professor of Biology in 2006. In 1998 he received UCR's Distinguished Teaching Award and was appointed to the Academy of Distinguished Teachers. He chairs the Board for the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, has been a judge for local and state science fairs, and is the principal investigator for two California Math Science Partnership projects working with elementary and middle school teachers and students in the Inland Empire.
About the fellowships
In 2006, NSF initiated a multi-year conversation with the scientific community, with assistance from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That dialogue, which was co-funded by NIH and HHMI, generated the 2011 report, Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action.
The scientific community actively informed the recommendations in the Vision and Change report. Among these was the recognition that a 21st century education requires changes to how biology is taught, how academic departments support faculty, and how curricular decisions are made.
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