Annie Champagne Queloz, PhD. ETH Zürich


Posts Tagged ‘Teaching biology’

Reforms in education: The content and the context

Reform_smallIn February 2017, I’m giving a talk about my ideas on reforming biology education in Switzerland. This theme has taken origin in my doctorate thesis (available here). I have written, in an unpretentious way, that my work could be considered as a first step to reform biology curriculum. Honestly, I have probably underestimated the value of this quote, and thus, now, I have to assume it! Consequently, I’m invited to explain such ideas during the “Praktikumslehrerfortbildung”, a workshop organized every two years for Swiss teachers from different disciplines.

Reforming the content

In the first part of my talk, I will show some of the most important results of my doctorate project. For me, while the results I have collected give important insights about misconceptions in biology held by Swiss students, my contribution is only the first step in the initiation of a reform. Indeed, I consider my research project as an educational needs assessment, i.e. the identification of a problematic situation. Kaufman et al. (2002), specialists in educational curricula design, define “need” as a gap between observable and desired results. During my studies, I have diagnosed some problematic understanding of particular biology concepts by using the Biological Concepts Instrument (BCI), a multiple-choice questionnaire built on students’ thinking (click here for more information). We were interested in how students can interpret the content (the scientific knowledge) that we tend to teach them. We know that students have persistent “Carebears” thinking on how biological processes work that need to be explicitly addressed during the course of instruction.

Many students have a “Carebears” thinking on how biological processes work.

Otherwise some of those ideas can harm to construct a solid network of knowledge and to develop an authentic conceptual understanding (see this previous post). In parallel, many of undergraduates met have not demonstrated an interdisciplinary perspective of thinking, i.e. they had some difficulties to connect different disciplinary knowledge together. The project revealed some problematic understanding that should be addressed in the course of instruction, requiring some changes or adaptation to the current science curriculum at the secondary and university level. However, are the results sufficient to catalyze a national educational reform in Switzerland?

Reforming the context

Then, here come what I consider the second step. Educational reforms initiated to address some socio-scientific issues can make science education more relevant for the students (see that reference for the meaning of “relevance”, Stuckey et al. 2013). In sociology of education, briefly, some are saying that education can reform the society (for example, by promoting better health and civic engagement) (Sadler 2011). In contrast, others are saying that the society is responsible for reforming education by defining professional and economic needs (see Meyer (1977) for an interesting review about the effects of education as an institution). Despite this contradiction, I was curious to investigate some socio-scientific issues, i.e. the context, that could be improved by reforming biology curriculum in Switzerland.

Despite important progress since the last 30 years by deploying important campaign again tobacco addiction, approximately 37% of the people between 20 and 34 years old are smoking in Switzerland (here is the reference, Addiction Suisse), positioning the country on the 25th rank, out of possible 182 (the source is here). Another example is the constant increase of the numbers of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in many occidental countries (WHO, 2016), including Switzerland (Statistiques, Office fédéral de la santé publique). Those public health issues could be used to develop a phenomenon-based learning approach, as Finland have initiated recently (here in an interesting article about Finnish educational reform). Many science topics such immunology, microbiology, cancer development, genetics (mutations), evolution (mutations), molecular biology (movements and structures of molecules), etc. could be taught though those socio-scientific issues as contexts in which student’s knowledge can be applied. To quote Sadler (2011, p.4): “If our goal is to help students become better able to contribute to debates and decisions about important societal issues with links to science and technology, then we need to create learning contexts such that learners actually confront some of these issues and gain experiences negotiating their inherent complexities”. By the existence of such socio-scientific issues and the low interests of its, I think that we failed in our way to teach biology (or science in general) in promoting a better science culture in earlier stages of education (indeed, usually such investigations are showing that higher level of education reduces the incidence of tobacco addiction or infectious sexual diseases).

Of course, it is hard to measure how the socio-scientific issues integrated in science curricula and reforms in education will necessarily lead to more informed citizens and better decision makers. The society will evaluate this citizenship competency (a question that could be raised: who is the society…?!). Reforming the content should be constantly done with respect to the development of scientific innovations and progress in science education. Reforming the context by catalyzing some changes in education system is also pertinent when some socio-scientific issues are observed in society. Such contexts make learning science relevant to students.


Champagne Queloz, A. et al., 2016. Debunking Key and Lock Biology: Exploring the prevalence and persistence of students’ misconceptions on the nature and flexibility of molecular interactions. Matters Select, pp.1–7.

Kaufman, R., Watkins, R. & Guerra, I., 2002. Getting Valid and Useful Educational Results and Payoffs: We Are What We Say, Do, and Deliver. International Journal of Educational Reform, 11(1), pp.77–92.

Meyer, J.W., 1977. The Effects of Education as an Institution. American Journal of Sociology, 83(1), pp.55–77.

Sadler, T.D., 2011. Socio-scientific Issues in the Classroom T. D. Sadler, ed., Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media.

Stuckey, M. et al., 2013. The meaning of “relevance” in science education and its implications for the science curriculum. Studies in Science Education, 49(1), pp.1–34.

Share Button