Systems Thinking as a Teaching and Learning Tool for Biology Education

University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom

Supervisors: Professor Dr Norman Reid, Dr Donald Gray & Dr Angus McWilliam

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Abstract

Biological research is moving towards a more holistic approach (systems biology) in an attempt to bring together the vast range of biological data to make more sense of living systems. This makes demands on scientists and teachers to draw together understandings from many areas of biological study and also to be literate in areas other than biology. It is important that the biology curriculum is modified to reflect this change and to ensure that coherent understanding for meaningful learning can arise.

This study aims to explore the ways by which systems thinking as an educational tool can enrich existing biology education practice. The specific aim was to develop systems-based educational material and to explore higher education students' reactions to this material and its impact on their learning processes.

The literature on systems biology and systems thinking is reviewed in the context of biology education. The work involved identifying areas of difficulty for first year undergraduates and establishing the views of experienced university teachers and researchers in Scotland about systems biology, systems thinking and biology education. This was followed by the development and application of the systems- based educational material in a selected topic in genetics. The material was later refined and used in Pakistan. The impact of the new material was assessed. The study also investigated the views of experienced academics applying and researching about the use of the concept of systems-thinking in biology education in the Netherlands.

The study showed that much of biology education is fragmented and that there are considerable difficulties with learning genetics stemming from its presentation as fragmented content. It also showed that there is widely held view that systems thinking should inform and could improve biology education. A framework based on the concept of systems thinking was used to develop systems-based educational material. This material was well received by first year university undergraduates and college students and made an impact on their learning.

Further work needs to be carried out on effectiveness in learning biology while further exploration of the use of systems-based educational principles for biology education is recommended. The study contributed significantly in offering a procedure for developing systems-based educational material.

References

Chandi, S.S. (2008).Using Systems Thinking as a Teaching and Learning Tool for biology Education. Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of Strathclyde and University of Glasgow, Scotland (UK).

Chandi, S., Reid, N., McWilliam, A. and Gray, D. (2009). Exploring the usefulness of a systems-based model from the perspective of biology students. Scottish Education Review, 1, 68-85.

An Episode of Change: using systems based model in biology education' won Estelle Brisard Award, 2007 from SERA (Scottish education research association) for writing an article (Award winning paper published in TES: The Education Supplement).

Correspondence

Dr Shagufta Shafqat Chandi
School of Education
Saint Andrews Building
Room 636
University of Glasgow (Present address)
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This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  (permanent address)

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