Mathematical needs of biological sciences students
MetadataShow full item record
The main purpose of this study was to investigate the mathematical needs of biological sciences students and how the current undergraduate curriculum is aligned with these needs. Primary efforts to investigate these needs and propose new curricula have been made by scientific associations such as the NRC, the MAA and the AAAS. The curricula proposed in these projects, however, are not clearly supported by student needs assessment studies. This study is intended to address this gap in the literature investigating the needs of biological sciences students through a mixed-methods based approach. Following a typical needs assessment methodology scheme, student needs were measured by the difference between students’ acquired competencies in college and the future competencies required in their workplace. This assessment was based on a mixed-method approach comprised of a content analysis of peer-reviewed journals, a nationwide cross-sectional survey, and semi-structured interviews. The study was guided by two main research questions: (1) What are the mathematical needs of biological sciences undergraduate students as perceived by certain stakeholder groups? and (2) Is the curriculum aligned with these needs? Major findings included: (1) The most consistent need across disciplines is the use of experimental design. (2) An overall understanding of math models is needed at least for scientific literacy; (3) The mathematical needs of students strongly vary depending on their disciplinary tracks. Students from ecology, evolution and animal behavior need training in the areas of descriptive and inferential statistics, precalculus, calculus, stochastic processes, linear algebra, differential equations, and mathematics models in general. On the other hand, students from developmental biology need training in the areas of precalculus, descriptive and inferential statistics, and mathematics models. These differences between disciplinary tracks imply the need for a flexible undergraduate curriculum that starts with introductory courses in experimental design and mathematics models, and offers options to pursue in depth particular research approaches according to students’ interest. An analysis of students needs and the curricula proposed in the literature, and a brief discussion of the implications of these results to the biological sciences undergraduate curriculum of the University of Texas at Austin is also included.