Science courses need content revision

Many think that online resources such as Massive Online Open Courses, commonly referred to as MOOCs, will erase the need for an expensive college degree. And this will soon be the case if the University of Miami does not act to save its rapidly deteriorating value.

As science undauntedly marches forward, the university’s science education lags behind. The university is doing an excellent job preparing students – for careers in the twentieth century.

A change is needed from the current practice of measuring content competency. Professors give the same lectures every year and hand out multiple choice tests to assess how well students understand the material. These tests prepare students for the past, a world without the Internet, and they reward those able to reach predetermined conclusions.

This stifles critical thinking by creating artificial knowledge limits to be reached, not exceeded. Such courses waste a professor’s expertise and can easily be replaced with recorded lectures and automated assessments.

The strength of our university, which online education cannot replicate, lies within its human capital: both faculty and students. We must shift to a paradigm of application, in which research professors are experts.

The backbone of science is not content, which machines do best, but the scientific method, which humans do best. Science courses should focus on critically applying content to address current questions while simultaneously capitalizing on collaboration between students, between courses and between departments.

Some teachers are doing it right. Richard Myers introduces his course, molecular biology of the gene, as the “hardest class on campus or your money back.” It is not intended to be difficult for the sake of being difficult, but to prepare biochemistry students for careers in science, which are inherently difficult.

Instead of requiring a textbook, Myers teaches only from primary scientific literature. And instead of giving multiple choice tests, he asks the class to analyze data and design experiments. He also invites scientists to explain research problems they are currently facing, and the students discuss solutions. All these strategies force students to understand biochemistry and meaningfully apply it.

Science students must take charge of their education and prepare themselves for science and medicine on the global stage. Our brains pale in comparison to computational speed and memory, which makes some wonder if robots will eventually replace doctors. I don’t believe so, for our human aspect can’t be programmed. We should recognize and develop our unique human powers and strive not to mimic technology, but to use technology, else we be defeated by it.


Louis Cai is a senior majoring in biology.


March 3, 2014


Louis Cai

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