Biological Sciences Degree Program at Arizona State - Tempe

Joshua Caulkins, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus, Karin Ellison, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus, Ben Hurlbut, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus, Kate MacCord, Arizona State University, Amy Pate, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus, Christian Wright, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus


We plan to infuse humanistic and meta knowledge into the Biological Sciences Degree Program within the School of Life Sciences (SOLS) at Arizona State University, Tempe. The content will be delivered through a series of learning experiences that emphasize communication, collaboration, problem solving, and critical analysis within existing required courses that provide foundational knowledge. The Biological Sciences Degree Program has four core courses that all students are required to take: General Biology I & II, Genetics, and Evolution. These courses comprise Tiers 1 & 2a. Tier 2b will incorporate elements into the Upper Division Major Requirements. For Tier 3, there will be a student incentive (a digital credential) to select a full 3-credit humanistic course, one of several that are currently offered, and that course will also fulfill an upper level elective requirement for the students. A vision for long-term implementation of this initiative is to work within the unit to revise the requirements for the Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences such that a Biology in Societal Context (BSC) capstone course is required.

In order to infuse humanistic and meta knowledge into the extant curriculum, we have devised a system of four axes: (1) epistemology, (2) social studies of science, (3) history, and (4) ethics. These axes are represented in the diagram on the right.

Specifically, infusion of BSC content into the Biological Sciences degree has three tiers which integrate humanistic and meta knowledge across our four axes (above). The three tiers follow student learning developmental stages: Introducing, Reinforcing, and Mastering. Students will grapple with increasingly difficult concepts and work collaborative to demonstrate their level of proficiency at each tier.

Tier 1 (Introducing)Intro Courses: BIO 181 (General Biology I) and BIO 182 (General Biology II)Students will be introduced to thinking in all four axes. (see link to the Spreadsheet below for details)
Tier 2a (Reinforcing)Core Courses: BIO 340 (Genetics) and BIO 345 (Evolution)The two Core Courses will each incorporate two of the axes, and will cumulatively cover all four axes.
Tier 2b (Reinforcing)

Upper Division Major Requirements, including but not limited to:

  • BIO 320 (Ecology)
  • BIO 331 (Animal Behavior)
  • BIO 351 (Developmental Biology)
  • BIO 353 (Cell Biology)
  • BIO 360 (Animal Physiology)
  • BIO 370 (Vertebrate Zoology)
  • BIO 420 (Immunology)
Each Upper Division Major Requirement course will incorporate two of the four axes
Tier 3 (Mastery)

The capstone to the meta and humanistic knowledge thread will be for students to select a BSC course as one of their Upper Division Electives. Possible courses include:

  • BIO 312 (Bioethics)
  • BIO 316 (History of Biology)
  • BIO 318 (History of Medicine)
  • BIO 324 (Environmental Ethics)
  • BIO 416 (Biomedical Research Ethics)
The Upper Division Elective will provide a deep-dive into at least one of the axes.

In Tier 1, students in BIO 181 and BIO 182, our General Biology course sequence, will have two to three lessons in Biology in Societal Context (BSC). These lessons will amplify a piece of the existing curriculum to introduce students to the BSC learning outcomes. Students are introduced to the ideas and arguments that underlie BSC. Students will be expected to identify ideas or arguments from the four axes.

In Tier 2a, students in BIO 340 (Genetics) and BIO 345 (Evolution) will have the four axes of BSC areas reinforced. Each course will provide depth in these two disciplines (Genetics and Evolution), and students will be able to use foundation frameworks in these axes to reflect on how the frameworks have impacted and shaped the discipline.

In Tier 2b, students will engage with two of the four key axes of BSC knowledge, and work with those concepts to reinforce what they have learned in Tiers 1 and 2a. Each course will provide additional opportunities for students to reflect on how the frameworks have impacted and shaped the disciplines.

In Tier 3, students will apply their foundational, humanistic, and meta knowledge, and synthesize literature, case studies, and/or resources to, for example, perform a critical analysis of a phenomenon (e.g., disease, research, society challenge, etc.) with the goal of discussing how various individuals, organizations, or political forces shaped this process.

Evaluation of student proficiency or mastery at each tier, with foci on communication/collaboration and/or problem solving/critical analysis skills, could include any of the following: group and individual projects, portfolios, essays, reports, data analysis, case studies, critique, argument construction or deconstruction, debate, formal presentations, worksheets, town hall discussions, etc. Students would be provided with rubrics for all assignments, providing explicit statements on expectations for student performance levels.

For a deeper dive into how we plan to incorporate these axes and learning activities into our current degree program, please see this excel file: SOLS Spreadsheet (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 13kB Oct9 20)