We wonder about what students walk away with from college biology courses that they can apply to the real world. Not enough is my opinion. And, while I am stating my opinion, students don't always come out critical thinkers by the teaching methods that are commonly used. (My apologies and congratulations to those using innovative and unique teaching methods.)
Science courses are often burdened with too much textbook. Look at general biology for non-science majors. Students pay $125 to purchase a watered down textbook that is almost identical as the one they had in high school. If they took A.P. it may have been the same textbook. Although in high school they get more pretty pictures of DNA floating around like a star ship.
Lets look at what are the Student Learning Objectives from most college biology courses.
As an example, I put in Student Learning Objectives in Google to get a random sample of what students are expected to learn and exhibit in a typical biology course. As expected, the main objectives are littered with words on critical thinking, real world application, analytical skills, connections between scientists and lay people. Why are the littered? Because those are the most important qualities students can leave with.
I am not too sure how memorizing the stages of the Kreb cycle would be more appropriate to teach critical thinking skills.
Alex will be the name of the first hurricane that might charge up the Gulf of Mexico. It might play havoc with moving the oil spill/blob towards the Florida coast and clear down to the Keys. This is a teaching moment.
If any good can come out of this oil spill, using it as a case study is the perfect way to teach students about biology.
For example a simple question like "How is the oil on top of the water killing organisms underneath? Students would have to look at the ways the oil is affecting the water, how chemicals are getting into the organisms, how it affects the cells, and what happens in the environment that changes the ecosystem.
So lets see what the students will learn:
properties of water
properties of oil
I could probably link it to every subject in the $125.00 biology textbook.
More than that, this used as a case study teaches students how science is applied to the real world.