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Biological Engineering Education and the Biology Knowledge Explosion: Lessons from Biology Educators

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Paper number  027030,  2002 ASAE Annual Meeting . (doi: 10.13031/2013.9234) @2002
Authors:   Kerry L. Hughes, Ann D. Christy
Keywords:   biological engineering, education, biology, core curriculum, skills acquisition

Biological engineering is an emerging discipline that integrates biological and engineering principles. Biological engineering education requires that students are equipped with the skills and knowledge of both biology and engineering. The breadth and depth of modern biology makes it impossible to convey the entire knowledge base to undergraduate students. It is, therefore, essential that core biological concepts and skills be identified. Biologists have faced this challenge for the last thirty years, as the knowledge base of biology has exploded, and have designed undergraduate teaching programs that address this issue. Some of the skills emphasized in the biological sciences that are invaluable to biological engineers include analogic thinking and the ability to understand non-linear systems. The acquisition of these skills complements the skills of deductive and analytical thinking, design, and problem-solving skills traditionally associated with engineering.

The objective of this study was to identify fundamental concepts and appropriate teaching methods for biology instruction in a biological curriculum and examines the applicability of these to biological engineering. Different concepts may apply to programs with different biological engineering specializations. Options for the integration and teaching of biological skills to engineering students in both introductory biology classes and upper-level engineering classes are examined. One approach used by biology educators is to identify and teach the skills emphasized in biology with examples from biology fundamentals. Another approach in undergraduate biology is the use of one or two core concepts as frameworks for teaching biological skills. The combination of familiarity with biological fundamentals (taught in biology classes and revised, as necessary, in upper-level engineering classes) and the acquisition of skills traditionally associated with biology, throughout the curriculum, should prepare engineering students for careers in biological engineering.

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