Outside in and inside out! A place to store ideas about education.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chicken and egg: some ideas on science literacy

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

This riddle holds much greater importance to me now that i am writing my very first OU module on Biochemistry (CHEM C6).

I just realized (or, rather, re-realized... does that make any sense?) today that one can really teach Biochemistry (or any other science, for that matter) from three points of view, viz,

Biochemistry as Content,
Biochemistry-as-skill, and
Biochemistry as a field of Study.

In Biochemistry as Content, we can teach Biochemistry as if it were a collection of very interesting and useful facts and their analysis and interpretation. Well and good, because we are all made up of biomolecules we should at the very least know what they are, and why they are there, and how they came to be.

Biochemistry-as-Skill outlines how it is to make science, how to make observations, how to ask questions, and how to go about getting answers to those questions. Now skills need lots of opportunities to apply, some sort of apprenticeship to get the subtler points of practice, as well as a good deal of internal motivation (read: interest).

In Biochemistry as a field of Study, we are not teaching about Biomolecules but rather Biochemistry itself becomes the subject of teaching. It relates to the history of Biochemistry (as a field), the landmarks where concepts and paradigms changed, what precluded those landmarks, what drove them to push biochemistry research towards certain directions. Now heaven help me, I cannot teach biochemistry as a field of study, no more than I can teach the "Nature of Science". In fact, most scientists I asked regarding my pet idea on having a "Nature of Science" course said (and they were emerituses in their own rights): "Great! But what's gonna be in it?!?".

The crux of the matter is, while Biochemistry-as-Content gives enough background and theory, and gives direction to what should be studied when you do Biochemistry-as-Skil, it is Biochemistry-as-Skill that creates the data, generates the facts, and so strengthens or dismantles the theories put forward in Biochemistry-as-Content. When enough momentum has been launched, or great strides have been taken, then this adds to another chapter of Biochemistry-as-Field.

So what am I driving at?

Of all the things I can write about, there is no doubt that Biochemistry-as-Skill is the most important object in learning and teaching biochemistry. But can I teach Biochemistry-as-Skill without first teaching Biochemistry-as-Content? More importantly, can I teach biochemistry-as-skill through a module, by distance, to students oh so far away?

I'll let you know when I do :)