Relevancy has always been at the core of Michael’s teaching strategy, and as an author, he has strived to integrate new relevancy-based resources into his textbook series. However, as the director and lead instructor of a large non-major biology program at Appalachian State, he realized that to engage students with the content, he had to make it relevant to their lives, and this relevancy had to be based on aspects of science that were evident either in the students’ everyday environment or in topics they were hearing about online or in the news.
One semester, out of complete frustration with low attendance and student interest, Michael decided to scrap the traditional approach and started talking with the students about what they were interested in. The result— cancer, energy drinks, human inheritance, and climate change— formed the basis of his first relevancy-based class. The student response was amazing— both engagement and interest increased almost immediately. A second-semester course was developed. This approach was integrated into a curriculum change at Appalachian State and became the basis for the Why Biology? content.
Students do want to learn biology; they just don’t want to be biologists.