A news story in ScienceNOW this week describes how City University of New York is planning to rearrange its "General Education" requirements so that non-majors who take science don't have to take lab courses anymore. Scientists at CUNY are, predictably, annoyed and upset. Even non-majors should get to muck around in lab with their own hands a bit before going off to whatever other majors and interests they have.
Here at LSU we've been discussing almost the Exact Same Issue in the Honors College for the past few weeks and coming to the Exact Opposite Conclusion to CUNY. We are re-designing an Honors version of Introductory Biology for Non-majors - and everyone is on board with the need for an associated laboratory in the course - even though (get this): the lab is not even a General Education requirement at LSU. Doing some science experiments with your own hands completely changes your perspective on it -- every scientist knows that -- we don't design expensive, staff-intensive, time draining, space-hogging teaching labs just for the fun of it - we design them because without them, you're only getting part of the picture.
So, for commitment to educating our future non-scientist leaders in the basics of science, the score this week is: LSU: 1 and CUNY: 0. (of course in the competition for good nearby pizza, the score is the opposite, thus creating a stalemate at present). Sadly, however, outside of the Honors College, as noted above, LSU's non science majors face some of the same incompleteness of their general science education, since labs are not part of the General Education requirements.
Not having some decent science literacy is a bit crippling for anyone who wants to be a future societal leader in any field. In the same way that not having some familiarity with foreign languages or art likewise makes for poorer scientists. And both situations make for poorer citizens.
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Many years ago, back in the 1950s when I started out, everyone took the same introductory biology course with lab. Given constraints of lab space and lab support, non major courses began to appear without labs. I am not sure that one size fits all introductory course is the best solution. But what happens if the introductory non major course becomes a major recruiting event? I suspect, given the present academic hard times, that labs for non majors will become more and more scarce.
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