Biological Sciences

Biological Sciences Core proposals

Course proposals for the Biological Sciences Core should describe how your course fits within your Core discipline, and how your Core discipline is situated within the purpose and values of liberal education.

Components of your proposal

Your proposal will include both a narrative description and a syllabus.
As you develop your proposal, you should not assume that the goals of your courses are obvious. It may be helpful to remember that the members of the Council on Liberal Education, like students in liberal education courses, come from units across the University. The council's aim is to ensure that liberal education courses meet the University's goals and that these goals are clear to students and to faculty members.

Narrative proposal

Your narrative proposal should explain how the course meets:

  1. The general requirements of liberal education.
  2. The common goals for all Core courses.
  3. The specific goals for the Biological Sciences Core.

Effective proposals will provide concrete examples from the course that illustrate how the course meets these goals, e.g., from the course syllabus, detailed outlines, course assignments, laboratory material, student projects, or other instructional materials or methods.

Your proposal should also include two brief statements that address:

  1. How your course addresses one or more of the University's Student Learning Outcomes.
  2. How the learning associated with this outcome will be assessed.


Because it is written for students, your syllabus should contain the following elements.

Language to help students understand what liberal education is and how this course fulfills its mission as a liberal education course. A course description at the head of the syllabus followed by a paragraph describing the precise aims according to the guidelines is one efficient way of doing this.

A clear explanation of how the particular course fulfills the Biological Sciences Core, so that students are aware of how and why the course meets LE requirements. This can be done through the stated course objectives, course topics, writing assignments, and required readings. You may also include supporting materials, such as lab manuals, sample assignments, or handouts.

Information about small group activities (small group discussion, debates, and so on) that will be employed in the course

A brief paragraph describing the Student Learning Outcome(s) the course addresses, how it addresses these outcomes, and how the learning that is associated with the outcome will be assessed.

Additional syllabus guidelines:

  • For existing courses, the syllabus must be for a term within the past two years.
  • For courses under development, the syllabus may be provisional but still must document how the course will meet the LE requirement(s), as indicated above. A list of lecture topics or discussion topics should be included, with the understanding that dates, schedules, and readings may be tentative.
  • The syllabus needs to conform to the University Senate Syllabi Policy, approved December 6, 2001. It should be in English, or with an English translation provided.
  • Formatting is often lost when material is copied and pasted into the system. Try to keep formatting simple.


All liberal education courses must:

  • Explicitly help students understand what liberal education is, how the content and the substance of this course enhance a liberal education, and what this means for them as students and as citizens.
  • Meet one or more of the Student Learning Outcomes (SLO). In the syllabus you submit, specify which of the SLO(s) that the course meets, how it addresses the outcome(s), and how the learning that is associated with the outcome(s) will be assessed.
  • Be offered on a regular schedule.
  • Be taught by regular faculty or under exceptional circumstances by instructors on continuing appointments. Departments proposing instructors other than regular faculty must provide documentation of how such instructors will be trained and supervised to ensure consistency and continuity in courses.
  • Be at least 3 credits (or at least 4 credits for biological or physical sciences, which must include a lab or field experience component).

All Core courses must:

  • Employ teaching and learning strategies that engage students with doing the work of the field, not just reading about it.
  • Include small group experiences (such as discussion sections or labs) and use writing as appropriate to the discipline to help students learn and reflect on their learning.
  • Not (except in rare and clearly justified cases) have prerequisites beyond the University's entrance requirements.

To meet more than one requirement:

  • A course may be approved to meet one Core or one theme or both a Core and a Theme. In the latter case, the Theme must be fully and meaningfully infused into the course (the old standard of "one-third of the course" will no longer be sufficient).
  • Courses may be submitted for both LE and WI designation.

Biological Sciences Core overview

Students need to have a measure of biological literacy that will allow them to analyze new biological information as it becomes available, put it into the framework of previous knowledge, and appreciate how it affects the earth's organisms.  Because biology is not static, the important element of biological literacy is in students seeing for themselves how biology is done and reaching an appreciation of the creative spark that drives discovery in biology. This requires providing students with opportunities to formulate and test hypotheses, interpret experimentally obtained data, and draw conclusions from the data that may challenge their preconceptions.

Biological Sciences Core objectives and criteria

Courses that meet the Biological Sciences Core requirement might be broad survey courses or focus more specifically on a particular type of organism, topic, or process of living organisms. Courses in the Biological Sciences Core requirement must present the evidence for our current knowledge (i.e., how did we learn what we know), guide students through the process of acquiring knowledge using the tools of the discipline, present the limitations of current research, convey the message that questions of the future may require new ways of gathering information, and emphasize that new knowledge may require substantial revision of our current thinking. Courses that guide students through an understanding of examples from the primary research literature in biological sciences are encouraged. The aim is not to simply capture a snapshot of what we currently know in a given field, but to guide students to develop skills that will enable them to undertake analysis of information pertaining to biological sciences.

Because interpretation of biological data relies so intimately on quantitative skills, courses in this Core area also need to demonstrate integration of mathematical thinking, such as interpretation of graphs and figures, to a level suitable for an introductory, non-major course. 

To satisfy the Biological Sciences Core requirement, a course must meet these criteria:

  • The course provides experimental evidence for how current knowledge in biology was obtained.
  • The course explores examples of unanswered questions in biology.
  • Students integrate mathematical thinking into analysis and interpretation of data.
  • The course includes at least two hours of laboratory per week, in which students have first-hand experience in producing and handling data, using tools of the discipline (i.e., thinking and working like a biologist).
  • The course includes laboratory experiences in which students do hands-on testing of principles presented in the lecture portion of the course; some laboratory sessions may include computer simulations of experiments or observations that otherwise cannot readily be addressed during a semester (e.g., evolution of a population over thousands of years).
  • The course provides laboratory experiments that allow students to confront interpretation of mistakes and unexpected results.

A lab experience in the Biological Sciences Core requires students to do one or more of the following:

  • Perform hands-on experiments, measurements, or analyses that test basic concepts or hypotheses about living organisms.
  • Analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions from data.
  • Examine the relationship between structure and function of biological specimens.
  • Explore biological systems to understand how individual organisms interact with each other and the environment.
  • Use mathematical models to describe or predict responses and behaviors in living systems.